The Ontario government’s Oct. 25 announcement of the More Homes Built Faster Act, proposing the construction of 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years, was a homebuilder’s dream come true.
Bill 23 is meant to “ensure that cities, towns and rural communities grow with a mix of ownership and rental housing types that meet the needs of all Ontarians, from single family homes to townhomes and mid-rise apartments.”
At first glance, it reads as good news. Not surprisingly, the homebuilding industry gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up in support of the act’s effort to cut red tape and reduce development fees.
“It is critical to tear down barriers and boost the supply of housing,” said the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, while Luca Bucci, CEO of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, said Bill 23 will “ensure more Ontarians have a better shot at finding a place to call home where they can live, work and play.”
The act’s 50 sections include changes that “support the development of ‘gentle density’” and otherwise “reduce government fees and fix developmental approval delays that slow down housing construction and increase costs.”
The detailed impact is summarized by Gowling WLG’s Ottawa office.
However, closer examination of Bill 23 is causing some observers to question the possible consequences of the act.
In a more muted reaction, the Ontario Association of Architects expressed concerns that “legislation that supports intensification should not come at the expense of existing environmental protections, such as the Toronto Green Standard and other nascent municipal green standards that aim to adopt higher tiers of the new 2020 National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings.”
In a letter to Premier Doug Ford, vice-president of policy and programs with The Atmospheric Fund, Bryan Purcell, wrote, “This legislation includes clauses that will inadvertently make future homes more unaffordable and less efficient for Ontarians. Excluding energy, sustainability and climate from consideration in the planning process will leave new housing exposed to spiralling energy costs and carbon prices.”
Were those clauses really inadvertent, as Purcell suggests?
“I don’t believe for a minute that this is an unintended consequence,” Chris Ballard, CEO of Passive House Canada told the Daily Commercial News. “If the government tried to sneak this through, they have been caught.”
In fact, an email referenced by The Star from Melissa Diakoumeas, spokesperson for Housing Minister Steve Clark, suggested that the Ontario Building Code is already sufficient, saying it contains “high standards for energy efficiency.”
Ballard disagrees. In an April 2022 op-ed, he wrote, “Ontario’s proposed code is a step backward when it comes to making buildings more energy efficient and resilient in the face of the climate crisis. Rather than adopt the 2020 NBC model step code, the provincial government in Ontario proposes to opt for the lowest possible efficiency level.”
Diakoumeas further hinted that intentions behind the act included the elimination of local code improvements.
“If municipalities create their own standards, this patchwork of energy efficiency and other requirements reduces consistency and erodes affordability.”
“It’s laudable to say they’re going to build 1.5 million affordable homes, but you can’t do it at the expense of ignoring environmental concerns,” says Ballard. “The Ontario taxpayer will ultimately be on the hook for deep energy retrofits required to bring them up to standard, and to make sure people are healthy and safe in the face of climate change and the global energy crisis that hasn’t even hit us yet.”
“Longer-lasting more durable buildings that are more resilient to more frequent climate events not only speak to the matter of affordability but also for the families and businesses living in the province,” said Kevin Lockhart, efficient buildings lead at Efficiency Canada.
Resilient building consultant Deborah Byrne agreed, adding there are additional aspects that must be acknowledged.
“Financiers don’t want to finance buildings that are not good quality. Insurers will not want to insure buildings that do not properly account for resiliency and cause them more risk.”
Byrne further believes municipal green standards are taking the rap for delays and cost issues which may, in fact, be caused by factors such as height restrictions, community push-back and municipal staffing shortages. Eliminating green standards will not speed up construction or address affordability, she says.
Ballard is optimistic changes to Bill 23 might be made before final reading.
“I’m hoping they will clarify that they did not really mean to have this apply to municipal green standards.”