When I think of how to address the current housing supply crisis we are facing, a quote by Winston Churchill comes to mind.
“I never worry about action, but only about inaction,” the British statesman once said.
Today, it is time for action.
To move the needle on the housing file, the team at the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) has researched and released a 15-point plan that calls on all three levels of government to tackle the housing supply and affordability crisis by immediately adopting a series of specific recommendations.
There are five recommendations for each level of government: municipal, provincial and federal. In a nutshell, they are aimed at enabling more housing to be built by speeding up dysfunctional planning approvals processes that presently exist in municipalities, allowing more infill development, lowering taxes and embracing digitization.
If all governments embrace the changes, it will enable builders to get shovels in the ground quicker and permit those looking for housing to get into their units much faster.
The blueprint is called Housing Ontario’s People Everywhere (HOPE). We feel these are very necessary actions that will help developers and builders reach the province’s ambitious target of building 1.5 million homes ove
r the next 10 years.
We consulted an array of stakeholders who are concerned about the future of housing supply and affordability, from supportive housing builders and operators to developers of major projects. We also talked to planning lawyers, housing advocates and groups, youth, former elected officials, Housing Affordability Task Force members, trade and financial sector organizations.
On the municipal front, we are calling for major changes that will force planning and development divisions to expedite housing applications and approvals within mandated timelines.
The plan also calls for previous increases in taxes, fees and levies, such as development charges, to be reversed or reduced, the development approvals process to be digitized, reasonable densification to be allowed, particularly in Toronto, and a prohibition on the use of heritage designations to stop development.
There are plenty of examples of how heritage designations are being used as roadblocks to prevent much-needed densification and housing.
In Toronto, for example, city staff has been asked to investigate the possibility of adding a former soy sauce factory on Queen Street in Leslieville to the heritage register.
This could interfere with the prospect of building an eight-storey, mixed-use building containing 132 purpose-built rental apartment units on the property.
Some 2,000 properties across Leslieville and other city neighbourhoods have already received heritage designations over the last half-decade.
Federally, our plan calls for an exemption or rebate on HST collected on construction of residential buildings, more tax incentive programs, and an immigration system that permits more foreign-trained skilled workers to come to Ontario.
The government also needs to step up efforts to encourage trades to come to Canada and ensure federally owned land is activated for housing.
Provincially, the Ontario government has come through with three major pieces of legislation aimed at housing, the last being the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark has shown true leadership on the housing file.
However, more action is needed, and we are suggesting major municipalities be mandated to have an independent planning and development ombudsman to ensure applications are not delayed.
We’re also recommending changes to speed-up cases at the Ontario Land Tribunal and are suggesting exclusionary zoning policies that prohibit forms of reasonable light densification be discontinued.
Municipalities should also be required to permit maximum reasonable residential development on sites.
The fixes we are suggesting are not intended to be critical of the work committed to or completed to date.
Rather, they are a call to action where greater speed is needed and expedited solutions are possible.
For the first time in years, we have a consensus from all levels of government and most elected officials that there is a housing supply crisis — and a fix is needed. It is critical that we take bold action.
The recommendations proposed in our action plan can be implemented quickly. They would remove systemic barriers to residential construction, increase housing supply and improve affordability.
Inaction is not acceptable.
Richard Lyall is president of RESCON. Send Industry Perspectives Op-Ed column ideas or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.