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Ford government's new housing bill makes municipal expansion easier

The bill comes with a host of policy changes, including ones that make it easier for municipalities to expand their boundaries
Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, speaks to journalists at the Queen's Park on Nov. 16, 2022

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park

The Ford government unveiled plans Thursday to make it easier to build homes on lands currently designated for farming or commercial purposes, and some vaguer promises to encourage more density where people already live.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark introduced a bill titled the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act. The legislation and accompanying proposals were styled as the fourth phase of the government’s promise to draft annual law changes attacking Ontario’s housing crisis and get 1.5 million homes built by 2031.

“We know that more progress and more action is required for our housing goals, particularly in the face of economic uncertainty, inflation, and soaring interest rates,” Clark said on Thursday afternoon, shortly after tabling the bill. 

Bill 97 also proposes to merge the provincial policy statement and the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) growth plan. The GGH growth plan and provincial policy statement are two documents used to guide planning in the province on things like density, urban growth areas, employment centres, and more. They’re meant to facilitate growth in a way that mitigates potentially harmful environmental, economic, and health impacts.

Instead of having two documents — one that applies to the entire province and another to a specific region — Clark said he wants to merge the two to create more consistency. 

By merging the two, Clark said he hopes to “give municipalities more flexibility, reduce duplication, create more homes in urban and rural communities, support local economies and create jobs while continuing to protect public safety and the environment.”

Municipalities' official plans have to adhere to the overall direction set by the policy statement. The new, holistic policy statement will have language around municipalities encouraging a mix of housing types — such as low- and mid-rise apartments — which is already included in the two existing documents. 

The proposed language in the new document doesn’t mean the province is single-handedly ending restrictive zoning laws, according to a briefing provided to reporters by civil servants. That would require actual bylaw changes, whereas the policy statement sets direction at a higher level.

Shortly after introducing the bill, the government posted a consultation document on merging the documents on the province’s environmental registry. It's open for consultation until June 5. 

The bill makes several other changes around speeding up approvals and reducing building costs, extending more protections to tenants and landlords, and making changes to how planners incorporate different kinds of infrastructure into community growth plans. 

The new policy statement would give municipalities more flexibility to push their settlement boundaries into existing rural areas, including farmland, and to rezone employment land for housing by watering down the requirement that these changes be done through a comprehensive review by the municipality.

Clark has forced municipalities to expand their boundaries before, even over the objections of local councils. Last year, after introducing Bill 23, the Ford government approved the official plans of Hamilton and Halton while also expanding their urban boundaries over the city councils’ objections.

The housing minister's newly tabled legislation will continue to uphold existing protections for the Greenbelt, the minister and ministry officials said.

Clark was asked directly about whether his government would make further incursions into the Greenbelt, in line with the changes introduced last year, but only said “there’s nothing in anything we’re announcing today, in this bill or in our consultation, that should cause a concern for Ontarians.” 

The ministry doesn’t have any forecasts on how many homes the various measures will help build. Clark and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy repeatedly said on Thursday that the government is committed to facilitating the building of 1.5 million homes by 2031. Earlier in the week, Clark said parts of that promise are “out of his control.” 

The government’s projections show housing starts for the next three years will hover around 80,000 — just over half of what’s needed on an annual basis to reach its goal — despite historic starts in 2021 and 2022. 

The projections contained in the budget and fall economic statement have continued to drop in the past few years as interest rates soar. 

The bill also includes protections for renters that were announced earlier this week, plus some more that aren’t fully firmed up because they’re also going out for consultation. 

The bill’s new promise is to create new rules for rental replacement policies across the province. They currently only exist in Toronto and Mississauga. Those two cities have laws on the books that allow them to force developers to replace existing tenants’ units if the developer wants to knock down an apartment to build a new one. 

The government said it would consult on including province-wide rental replacement policies to force developers to offer replacement units that have the same number of bedrooms, but not the same square footage, at the same rent.

On Wednesday, Clark and Attorney General Doug Downey were in London to announce new funding for the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) to help clear its massive backlog. The government said $6.5 million will be spent hiring 40 new adjudicators and five administrative staff.

As of mid-November last year, the LTB had 82 adjudicators, down from 94 at the end of 2021, according to data Downey’s ministry tabled in the legislature this week.

The pair also announced proposals that will ensure tenants can install air conditioners and will strengthen protections against renovictions.


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Aidan Chamandy

About the Author: Aidan Chamandy

Aidan Chamandy specializes in energy and housing. He can usually be found looking for government documents on obscure websites and filing freedom-of-information requests. He hosts and produces podcasts. Reach him anytime at [email protected].
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