I’m writing this column on a break from the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy, where I’ve been serving since the beginning of the most recent legislative session. Most recently, the committee has been debating the Ford government’s Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act.
The government wants to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and believes developer-friendly policies are the best means to do that.
Bill 23 will cut development charges for new home-building projects – a key revenue source for cities – and this comes at a cost of $26 million for Ottawa. For context, Ottawa has a budget of $14 million for affordable housing.
(Conservatives have countered that Ontario’s municipalities are hoarding money in reserves from accumulated development charges. Municipal experts dispute that claim, insisting that these funds are allocated to key infrastructure projects.)
Also cut under Bill 23 are municipal provisions for green building standards, heritage protection, rental replacement standards and inclusionary zoning. Bill 23 prevents citizens and community groups from appealing planning decisions (unless they are granted the right to do so by an adjudicator).
Bill 23 also opens 2,995 hectares of Ontario’s Greenbelt to development. This is ecologically sensitive, protected land around the Greater Toronto Area, impacting ten municipalities. Also proposed are big changes to the mandates of conservation authorities charged with protecting ecologically sensitive areas.
Some private developers – who also happen to be PC donors – stand to gain massively from Bill 23 with new development in the Greenbelt.
Bill 23 will not improve Ontario’s cities, maintain and build affordable housing or create the “missing middle” homes we need. Bill 23 tells us that politics in Ontario is not about what you know, but who you know. Decisions on housing are not being guided by the best evidence at hand.
Bill 23 is a gift for developers seeking fewer restrictions to build small luxury homes downtown or large homes that sprawl beyond urban boundaries. It helps large corporate landlords seeking to push out low-income tenants. It is also being considered when newly elected city or town councils have yet to meet.
Adding insult to injury, the Ford government also recently introduced Bill 39, a law which would further empower “strong mayor” legislation. If Bill 39 is adopted, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa could pass motions with only a third of council support.
Thankfully, Mark Sutcliffe, Ottawa’s mayor, has refused to use “strong mayor” powers. Several Ottawa city councillors have also spoken out, and that matters.
Write me a note and tell me what you think Ontario should do to address our housing affordability crisis. Together we can make the case that better is possible.