Ontario municipalities have their marching orders from Premier Doug Ford’s government to do what it takes to meet Bill 23 housing targets in the next decade.
But as industry specialists told delegates attending the recent Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association conference, municipal councils still have multiple mandates to focus on, making infrastructure delivery to achieve housing goals a challenge.
The OSWCA panel, titled How are Municipalities Expanding Their Capital Budgets to Meet Bill-23 Housing Targets, took place Jan. 25 in Niagara Falls.
Representatives from York Region, the City of Niagara Falls and the City of Guelph suggested their city councils are committed to achieving new housing targets but are required to adjust on the fly in the face of a stream of new provincial policies.
Ontario has set a target of building 1.5 million homes by 2031.
“It rings loud and clear that municipalities are facing massive budget constraints and are only able and willing to put so much of that cost recovery onto the ratepayer,” said panel moderator Steven Crombie, OSWCA’s director of government and public affairs, in an interview. “So this system can only grow so far.”
Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, approved by the Ontario legislature in November 2022, presented reforms to a half-dozen pieces of legislation including the Development Charges Act.
Analysis from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario at the time stated, “The cumulative impact of proposed changes to municipal fees and charges is significant and contrary to the widely accepted concept that growth should pay for growth.”
The government has since introduced funding to help municipalities build the infrastructure necessary to support the Bill 23 housing targets, though Crombie called the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund “a bit of a stop-gap measure.”
“Reliance upon development charges for system expansion doesn’t seem to be a sustainable model,” he said. “Oftentimes, that’s a capital barrier to developers and that cost is saddled upon the homeowners or the first-time purchasers of those homes.
“What we need is upper levels of government, the province or the federal government, to create a long-term subsidization for these systems.”
Panellist Reg Russwurm, manager of design and construction for the City of Guelph, suggested all the changes in Bill 23 and Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, added up to overkill.
“The province is getting in the way too here,” he said. “The amount of changes that are coming out just makes your head spin.”
Guelph completed an asset management plan for its assets in 2022. Recently it has also worked on a Transportation Master Plan, Master Servicing Plan, Secondary Growth Planning and 10-year Capital Forecast.
“We know that dollars need to be spent on our asset management plan to make sure that we address that backlog, because we can’t have growth coming in and adding pressures while also still struggling to meet service levels,” he said.
The City of Niagara Falls has been given a relatively modest growth target by the province: it’s expected to have 8,000 units built by 2031.
Erik Nickel, general manager of municipal works for the city, said Niagara Falls citizens expect service levels to be maintained, and meanwhile staff and council have to continue to be diligent in undertaking asset management.
“We know that growth is a priority of the province, it’s a priority of the region, it’s a priority of the city,” said Nickel. “But I can’t just talk about growth without talking to you about the existing demands, existing users haven’t gone away. And that’s what we call asset management or state of good repair.”
The city has determined that to deliver its mandates, it can choose to decrease levels of service, look for new infrastructure rehabilitation strategies or increase rates and fees. It will also engage developers to come up with creative solutions, he said, including new front-ending agreements.
“We’re doing what most other municipalities are doing. We’re putting plans into place, we’re planning, planning, planning,” said Nickel.
York Region, meanwhile, has known it would see a major population increase for many years and its council and staff have invested in water and other infrastructure to be ready, although higher-level funding will still be required.
Infrastructure managers Pina Accardi and Wendy Kemp outlined the spending plans now in place.
“In order to fully meet the capital plan, we do have a number of products that remain unfunded,” said Kemp. “They won’t have funding in time to meet the 2031 target we’re talking about. So we have quite a challenge ahead.”
York is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada. The plan is to grow from 1.2 million residents in 2021 to 2.02 million in 2025. It’s regional housing growth target is 150,000 new homes by 2031.
York’s Environmental Services’ 10-year capital plan of $4.597 billion is about 40 per cent of the region’s total capital plan. Proposed wastewater spending of $3.357 billion represents 29 per cent of the 10-year spend.
Broken down into works, in the next 10 years in York Region there will be 55 kilometres of sewer pipes laid, 35 kilometres of watermain, three new sewage pumping stations, two new water pumping stations, five new water storage facilities, eight wastewater facility expansions and five water facility expansions.
“Pina’s team is really charged with trying to stay just ahead of the pipeline,” said Kemp.
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