All three levels of government and the development sector have a critical role to play in tackling the housing crisis, according to a new report prepared by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
“Bold action and leadership are required from all three orders of government and private, non-profit, and co-operative housing sectors to address the housing crisis in Ontario,” states the introduction of the report called A Blueprint for Action. “It will take collective, constructive and focused work by all involved to improve affordability, diversify the housing mix, and increase supply.”
The 20-page report was prepared because finding a place to live is a struggle for many due to low vacancy rates, limited supply and an insufficient mix of housing options. Costs of ownership and rental rates are also rising much faster than incomes and more people are experiencing homelessness.
The report outlines nearly 90 recommendations that are grouped into actions that the federal, provincial, municipal governments and the development sector should consider implementing and suggests the province needs a made-in-Ontario framework to address the housing challenges.
“Tinkering around the edges will not be successful,” the report states.
AMO president Jamie McGarvey said in an interview the COVID-19 pandemic has made a bad situation worse, leading to a province-wide housing crisis. To address the problem, he maintains all parties must come to the table and work together in a co-ordinated and integrated way.
“Too many Ontarians are struggling to find a place to live,” he said. “The cost of home ownership and rental rates is rising fast, so we need to figure out ways of doing this – and again it’s not just municipalities, the province and the feds need to be there. Somehow this all needs to work together to create the varied housing supply – and not be siloed. Everyone has a role to play.
“We need a made-in-Ontario framework that serves all of the areas of our province and that’s really important.”
The Blueprint takes a principle-based approach to the problem and recommendations in the report are aimed at guiding collective action to build a strong housing sector throughout the province.
It calls for a new collective mindset and transformative change to address the systemic issues around housing affordability over the long-term and is intended to be a starting point for conversation.
The report suggests governments must plan for growth and foster communities with a diverse range and mix of housing options.
“The housing market in Ontario is really quite complex whether it’s supply or demand, and affordability is equally as complex,” said McGarvey. “Those are the things that we need to take a look at. We realize that this isn’t, ‘one item’s going to fix all.’ There’s lots of variances that need to be addressed.”
For example, in northern Ontario the cost for construction is higher due to the short construction season, labour shortages and the cost of transporting materials. Further complicating the problem is the fact housing supply is also impacted due to high demand from investors with a primary goal of price appreciation.
On the federal front, the report suggests the Canadian government should support provinces and territories with a national strategy to help municipal governments boost housing stock, as well as provide funding to support the conversion of vacant commercial space to affordable housing.
AMO also wants changes made to immigration selection criteria to allow the entry of more skilled workers for the construction industry. The government has announced that, starting April 30, construction employers can hire 30 per cent of their workforce through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for low-wage positions for one year, up from 10 per cent. While the changes are likely a step in the right direction, AMO says more discussions are necessary to determine how much they will help and what else is needed.
On the provincial front, the report noted Ontario is responsible for numerous processes that affect timelines in the municipal development approval process, and should review the Building Code for clarity and provide more education to municipal governments, developers and the public on how to apply the rules to achieve a greater supply of safe and sustainable housing.
The report also noted the province should work in partnership with municipal governments to change public attitudes to intensification by making people more aware of the negative impact of sprawl on the environment, traffic congestion and on the costs of municipal services.
Additionally, Ontario should consider a “Yes in my backyard,” initiative to address community concerns and change public attitudes against new “missing middle” and community housing developments.
McGarvey said Ontario has moved in the right direction in some areas and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is focused on bringing more planning control into municipalities so they can do things faster with less cost, but there is a need for more municipalities to pick up on that.
He said it may be that a ”one-size-fits-all approach” does not work as there are 444 municipalities in Ontario.
“It’s very diverse and there are unique and different challenges facing every community across the province from rural to northern and cities and everything in-between. So, we need to make sure there’s flexibility in legislation and that municipalities can adapt to whatever they feel is going to work with their municipality.”