Housing — Always on My Mind (Willie Nelson)

Larry Newman


It seems that housing is on everybody’s mind.

The Economist cover at the end of October captured the anxiety attached to this problem.

It’s on the front cover of the most recent Economist magazine, presented as a horror show of high prices.

Of 17 countries in North America and Europe, the Economist identifies Canada as one of the most exposed in a housing risk chart. Canadian housing debt is now 186% of net disposable income.

During his fall election campaign, now-mayor Mark Sutcliffe promised to “…build 100,000 new homes in our city over the next 10 years,” 10,000 of which would be “affordable.”

Our premier, Doug Ford, has something to say about this, too. Back in December 2021, the Ontario Affordability Task Force was formed to investigate ways to deal with housing affordability. In April 2022, the task force’s nine members—six of whom were in the real estate or development business—reported its conclusions and recommendations.

The topmost conclusion of this task force is that Ontario needs more housing—to be specific, 1.5 million more homes over the next 10 years. Many of their recommendations were incorporated into Bill 109, More Homes for Everyone Act, which received royal assent in April 2022.

Unsatisfied with Bill 109, Premier Ford recently proposed Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act. This bill expands on the measures introduced in Bill 109 and includes changes to several provincial acts, including those related to planning, conservation authorities, the Ontario Land Tribunal, and more.

Bills 109 and 23 have cribbed generously from the Affordability Task Force recommendations. Since Bill 109 became law, the City of Ottawa’s planning department has been working to implement the changes to planning procedures and rules that it calls for. Now, with the implementation of Bill 109 in progress and the enactment of Bill 23, Ottawa City staff have been studying the new bill. On November 7, Don Herweyer, interim general manager of planning, real estate, and economic development, wrote a memo to the mayor and council members to explain the impacts.

I have a copy of the memo and I’ll crib too. The following are a selection of Bill 23 requirements that I believe relate specifically to affordability and/or will be of interest to Sandy Hill residents who read Christine Aubry’s affordable rental housing story in the October-November 2022 issue of IMAGE:

Allow up to three “gentle intensification” principal units (example: granny additions) on any urban-serviced residential lot, including in a detached, semi-detached or townhouse. Prohibit a zoning bylaw from regulating minimum unit size or requiring more than one parking space per unit. These units will be exempt from development charges, parkland, and community benefit contributions.

Exempt affordable and inclusionary zoning units (example: rent geared to income) from development charges, discounts to community benefits, and parkland dedication.

Require a maximum parkland dedication cap of 10% for sites less than five hectares in area, and 15% for larger sites. Halve the maximum parkland dedication rates for land and cash-in-lieu [of land]. Require 60% of development charges and parkland funds to be spent or allocated on an annual basis.

Prohibit municipalities from requiring site plan control on matters of exterior design or of sustainable design for a proposed building. Exempt buildings of up to 10 residential units from site plan control entirely. Allow “as of right” residential housing up to four units and up to four storeys on a single residential lot. (In this case, as-of-right means building without needing to pay development charges).

Remove all third-party appeals (example: neighbourhood associations) on planning decisions from consideration by the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Increase the threshold requirements for new Heritage Conservation District plans.

Require conservation authorities to direct levels of responsibility largely toward concerns of flooding and erosion, which may make some current lands available for development.

Limit inclusionary zoning (example: affordable housing based on income) to a maximum cap of 5% and a maximum term of 25 years

Bills 109 and 23 are intended to accelerate the building of homes in Ontario and I believe they will. The elimination of development charges and the reduction of parkland contributions could be sufficient for builders to begin more projects. However, because the cost of housing is largely market driven how will the reduction of these “soft” fees deliver more affordable homes? To be determined.

Stay tuned for a follow-up housing article after Bill 23’s final form is implemented.