With the next provincial election less than three months away, the Ontario government appears poised to announce decisions on policies to speed up the creation of new homes.
Tools could include policy reforms recommended in the Feb. 8 report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force, some of which were immediately criticized by municipalities, as well as other initiatives to enhance digital permitting.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and Associate Minister of Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed suggested in a joint interview recently the government would be issuing a “roadmap” for digital planning and permitting initiatives including a new data standard that would standardize municipal systems by the end of April.
As for the 55 recommendations contained in the task force report, Clark said he was currently weighing competing interests including those expressed by municipal politicians and the development industry and could be implementing reforms, possibly including a housing supply bill or housing affordability bill, in the near future.
The affordability task force was one of three streams of consultation on accelerating housing the government has undertaken, Clark said, and he has continued to consult with municipalities, the development industry and the public.
“Now my job is to take all these interests, sometimes they’re competing interests, balancing them, and rolling out a set of reforms that are workable, that are targeted and that are smart,” he said, acknowledging municipalities were critical of proposed measures that would reduce their authority over zoning and development approvals.
“So it’s a tough job. I hope I’m able to deliver on it. But I do believe, just like this standard, we need to look at the housing issue as a long-term process. I’m at the point where I hope that I’ll have a housing supply bill or housing affordability bill every year in a mandate. I think it’s important that it’s also long term.”
Later he said, “You’ll know very soon the initiatives we’re going to roll out.”
During what was billed as an affordable housing summit in January, Clark and Premier Doug Ford announced $45 million for a new Streamline Development Approval Fund to help Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities modernize, streamline and accelerate processes for managing and approving housing applications.
The province also committed to work with the municipal sector to develop a data standard for planning and development applications to help accelerate approval timelines.
A statement said data standardization would help improve the quality of data, create consistency across systems, make it easier to measure results, reduce costs for business and governments, and support municipalities’ transition to digital service delivery and digital approvals.
The digitization efforts, spearheaded by Rasheed, include development of the province’s Ontario Data Authority. His ministry and Clark’s are collaborating on the plan, Rasheed said.
“We want to make sure that we are able to deliver and expedite things so that we are able to build more homes in our province,” said Rasheed.
“The key to addressing the housing crisis is getting more homes built faster. That’s the most important thing. And that’s why we are developing a new data standard for planning and development applications to help speed up the approval process.”
Clark said municipalities currently have different systems such that in one a developer can know exactly what stage a development is at but elsewhere there are unexplained and costly delays.
“It’s this trying to eliminate barriers in the municipal process that I believe the data standard and the work that minister Rasheed is doing will solve. That will be a huge benefit for generations of people that want to get shovels in the ground and build that house.”
Rasheed acknowledged there have been initiatives to create digital standardization for development approvals in the province, specifically the One Ontario digital standardization plan that has a growing list of sponsors and supporters including AECO Innovation Lab, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario and the Ontario Building Officials Association, but said at this point the government is still gathering information and seeking input.
“Right now we are just trying to get a lot of input and feedback from our stakeholders,” said Rasheed. “Because in technology, you want to get it right. For us, the most important thing is that we listen, and then we do it in a way that our first attempt is the right attempt.”
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