Storm clouds have been gathering over the housing market for some time now. But today the crisis is here and threatening our economic recovery.
Young people can no longer get into the housing market and start families. High prices are causing an exodus of talent as people look for more affordable living conditions. With immigration expected to top 400,000 individuals for the next several years, the situation shows no signs of abating.
It is estimated we would need to build another 650,000 homes just to get Ontario to the same average level of housing per capita as other provinces.
But enough of the figures. The question is what are we going to do about it?
The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) recently held a housing supply summit to address that question.
We invited politicians, speakers and panellists to provide background on how we got here, speak to what can be learned from other jurisdictions, and offer up ideas on how we can deliver more housing, increase rental housing, and also boost the supply of labour.
It was a busy four-hour session with a diverse group of 27 informative speakers.
More than 700 individuals attended.
We were impressed with the ideas and thoughts put forward by these influencers and innovators on a broad range of topics. A survey showed attendees enjoyed the event.
Importantly, we learned that the federal and provincial governments, provincial party leaders and big city mayors in Ontario are all on the same page when it comes to the crisis. They agree that it’s a critical situation and concur urgent action must be undertaken.
The other good news is that the session showed we are aligned both at a political and industry level.
Federal Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen, provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who is chair of Ontario’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus, all noted the situation is very serious as did other provincial party leaders – Andrea Horwath (NDP), Steven Del Duca (Liberal) and Mike Schreiner (Greens).
As many of them indicated, all governments must work together and engage both the private and public sector if we are to tackle the problem.
As Clark pointed out, Canada has the lowest amount of housing per capita of any G7 country. An additional 1.2 million homes would have to be built in Ontario to catch up to our international peers.
The More Homes, More Choice Act was a step in the right direction and now, and as Clark said, we must address the sweeping recommendations made by a Housing Affordability Task Force. The reforms would address restrictive zoning, increase density in urban and suburban areas, legislate timelines for development approvals, and make digitization and e-permitting a priority.
The task force blueprint to build 1.5 million homes is ambitious but it is the type of out-of-the-box type thinking we need.
All Ontarians should have access to housing. But many young people have given up on the prospect of ever owning a home.
It is obvious that we urgently need further measures put in place immediately to cut red tape, accelerate the construction of new homes and make them affordable.
Hussen told the summit the feds are doing everything they can to remove barriers while Lehman pointed out the federal and provincial governments will have to resist the temptation to embrace short-term solutions and also focus on how to double the supply of construction labour.
Presently, Canada is 34th out of 35 OECD countries when it comes to dealing with development approvals and the World Bank has pegged us at 64th out of 190 countries.
As I mentioned earlier, the lack of affordable housing threatens our economic recovery. Toronto Region Board of Trade and WoodGreen Community Services indicated in a report that the lack of affordable housing is costing the GTA up to nearly $8 billion annually – or almost $38 billion over a five-year period.
We have an opportunity to change that.
There is no quick fix to the problem. But we do know that we need to put the building blocks in place now.
Specifically, we need to speed up the review process so builders can get moving more quickly on projects. Multiple reports, including those by RESCON, shows it takes far too long to get this done.
There is no doubt that a collaborative and co-ordinated approach by government, industry and other stakeholders is necessary.
As we learned at the summit, other jurisdictions around the world have already dealt with similar situations so we can learn from them.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
However, we must start now, not six months from now, not a year from now, because the clock is ticking. RESCON’s summit was a critical step to help get the ball rolling.
Hopefully, it will build momentum for continued change.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario. Send Industry Perspectives Op-Ed comments and column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.