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LETTER: Bold actions are required to meet province's housing targets

Municipalities need to make disruptive changes to their official plans to make them transformative, writes West End Home Builders head
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GuelphToday received the following letter from Mike Collins-Williams, CEO of the West End Homebuilders Association

The provincial planning approvals system is in a state of disarray following an announcement in late October that the Ontario Government would reverse changes it made to a dozen municipal Official Plans. The provincial government has indicated that it wants to rebuild public trust in the provincial planning process.

The West End Home Builders’ Association (WE HBA) supports a transparent land development process that provides certainty to municipalities, communities and the development industry. While the province takes the steps to achieve this, we urge all levels of government to not abandon efforts to address the housing crisis and continue efforts to significantly increase housing supply.

Across Southern Ontario, we are witnessing the impact the housing shortage has on people and our communities. Young families are getting priced out, and they are leaving our larger cities for more affordable communities farther and farther away.

There is a broad consensus that over the next 10 years we will need to build at least 1.5 million more homes across Ontario to keep up with our growing population. That is a very big number. For perspective, we would need to double the current rate of construction to accommodate growth.

Part of the challenge in achieving that objective is many municipalities succumb to local opposition stalling housing construction. To solve the housing crisis, Ontario municipalities need to take bold action.

The original modifications made to a dozen municipal Official Plans by the provincial government were intended to uphold the provinces’ own objective to increase housing supply, choice and balanced growth. While some of the modifications may have been politically unpopular, they are absolutely necessary to accommodate population growth.

The reality is that the changes needed to fix the housing crisis will be disruptive if they are to be transformative.

The Greater Golden Horseshoe is the fastest growing region in North America. Between July 2022 and July 2023, Canada’s population grew by 1.15 million - a larger population increase than the entire United States of America, a country nearly 10 times our size.

Many municipal Official Plans were built on population forecasts that were generated prior to the federal government nearly doubling our annual population growth. This means there are incredible growth pressures on our cities requiring a paradigm shift in how we plan for long-term growth.

Since those Official Plans were initially approved, many Ontario municipalities have signed a Housing Pledge that reflects actual population growth and commits their support to significantly increasing housing construction.

We need to provide residents with access to a variety of housing options that meet their needs. That means building up, in and out. Building up, with taller buildings around transit and in our downtowns; in, with denser missing middle infill projects in existing neighbourhoods; and out, with new communities in our suburbs.

Southern Ontario municipalities are well positioned to do exactly that by ensuring their Official Plans provide a range of new housing supply through both urban expansions and policies to increase density.

To put it bluntly, you just can’t pack an extra 500,000 people into Ontario every year and accommodate all that with intensification. Difficult and sometimes politically unpopular decisions are required to plan for the level of growth that is arriving each and every

Government, industry and the public must continue to support getting more “shovels in the ground” as urgently as possible. Municipal councils have a fresh opportunity to carefully review the provincial modifications and adopt key changes in order to provide enough homes for our growing population.

Southern Ontario offers a healthy, vibrant and welcoming environment and this is our opportunity to build a better future for everyone who lives here, and everyone who chooses to live here in future. It will require bold thinking and urgent action, but if we work together, we’ll make that future a reality, one home at a time.

Mike Collins-Williams, MCIP, RPP
Chief Executive Officer, West End Home Builders’ Association