One Ontario is kicking off a virtual conference series to address issues related to streamlining the development application approval process, with the first session focusing on the affordable housing crisis in the province and a call to government to come to the table to find solutions.
“We’re going to be looking for practical ways that the government can help this particular situation,” said Arash Shahi, co-founder and CEO of AECO Innovation Lab. “For as long as I can remember we’ve been talking about affordable housing, the housing crisis. We want to put some actionable items on the table. This is what needs to be done, this is what can be done and this is the role the government needs to play. The bottom line is…the private sector and these coalitions can only go so far. At some point the government needs to step in and take charge.”
Ontario’s Conservative government has run on the platform of digitization, streamlining and cutting red tape and they need to be held accountable, Shahi pointed out.
“We built a coalition with all the major stakeholders in the province at the table,” he noted. “This event is a call out to the government saying everybody is here, we’re just missing you at the table.
“We want the government to hear what we have to say.”
The inaugural session in the series, slated for Tuesday, June 22 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., is billed Post-pandemic housing supply and affordability: what can the government do?
The session will feature industry leaders participating in a panel discussion exploring Ontario’s housing challenges and what government and other stakeholders can do to help create more affordable supply.
“We are coming out of a pandemic and the economy has to be restarted somehow. We believe construction and housing is a really good way to restart the economy,” Shahi said. “If we can find a way to streamline our development approvals and get permits out there, we can restart the economy through residential construction and at the same time address the housing crisis that we have.”
The discussion will be moderated by Shahi and include speakers Mary Ellen Bench, senior adviser at StrategyCorp and Counsel at Dentons; Paul De Berardis, director of building science and innovation at the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON); Pino Di Mascio, head of impact strategy and delivery at Dream; and Nick Gefucia, vice-president, affordable housing at EllisDon Capital.
One Ontario is an initiative developed by AECO Innovation Lab with the aim of establishing a set of provincial guidelines for data and information exchange throughout the development approval process. The framework will be aligned with regulatory requirements set by the province and will be driven by technological tools and advancements in the AEC industries, states AECO.
“Because of COVID a lot of municipalities are now investing in their digital infrastructure and there are a lot of financial programs available from the federal and provincial governments for the local governments to go digital,” said Shahi. “But the challenge is everybody is working in a silo on their own, so in a few years we are going to end up with a whole bunch of systems that don’t talk to each other and don’t connect with each other.
“You have all this digital infrastructure but you can’t communicate with anyone outside of your organization. If you don’t put the standards in place today, trying to retrofit a standard five years from now is going to be a lot more expensive and a lot more difficult once everyone has already gone digital,” he added.
“Right now, most municipalities are still on paper so it’s a good time to implement standards where everybody can leverage those standards in developing their tech portfolio.”
Standardization and streamlining protocols will have a positive impact in a number of areas including affordable housing.
“Right now if you have an affordable housing project they have to go through the entire permitting process. If you build a project in one municipality and want to build the same project in another municipality it has to go through the entire process again,” Shahi explained.
“We’re exploring opportunities for streamlining that kind of transfer between municipalities and also to see how can we expedite the specific permit applications including affordable housing projects. That’s where technology can help.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.