By Alex Piccini
Why this is a watershed moment in the history of Ontario housing
No matter which television channel, newspaper or radio station you listened to, housing in Ontario was a consistent topic of conversation in 2022, and there are more challenges on the horizon this year, with global economic uncertainty and a higher interest rate environment. It will make 2023 a pivotal year for housing and a major test of the new tools and mechanisms being implemented by all levels of government to enable more residential construction.
What is encouraging is the increasing alignment of all levels of government on both the problem and solutions. First and foremost, we are seeing more municipal governments recognize that the housing crisis Ontario is experiencing is fundamentally rooted in a lack of supply. In December 2022, we saw immediate and bold steps from Toronto Mayor John Tory with the 2023 Housing Action Plan. The plan called for multi-unit dwellings in neighbourhoods currently restricted to single-family homes, revisiting existing housing projects to maximize densities, and
expanding existing co-op and non-profit rental housing.
Prior to the City’s plan, the provincial government, through the More Homes Built Faster Act, provided revised housing targets for Ontario municipalities and additional municipal tools through the Better Municipal Governance Act to help meet the targets. Since these provincial changes, we have started to see municipalities and the province aligning on the supply problem and working together to bring forward substantial change that will dramatically increase housing. Municipalities and the province are working together to restore housing attainability. There is also a role for the federal government to play. Leveraging surplus government-owned lands and harmonization towards a national unified building code and tax policy all significantly impact the cost of new homes. Through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the federal government can also take an important leadership role in supporting unique housing solutions across Ontario to ensure more options are available throughout the housing continuum.
Building Better Together means that all levels of government are working with industry to expedite the construction of all types of new housing and return balance to the market, putting more homes and purpose-built rentals within reach of more Ontarians.
NIMBYism, however, remains a powerful force. There is a strong incentive for individual municipal councillors to get behind community opposition to growth and development because they are elected by existing—not future—residents. In addition, various designations and forums are open to misuse as a means to slow or block development. This can lead to local decisions that limit the ability to add housing, as was recognized by the Housing Affordability Task Force in its recommendations. This approach is misguided economically and socially. New home construction in Ontario annually employs 554,102 people, pays over $37.7 billion in wages and drives over $76 billion dollars of direct investment into communities across our province. Opposing new construction isn’t an approach that Ontario can afford to take, particularly at a time of economic uncertainty when we already are in a housing supply deficit.
New or renewed communities ensure more opportunities for individuals and families outside of existing residents. These Ontarians are depending on having the variety and volume of housing options in both major urban centres and smaller adjacent communities. If we don’t build better together, and communities aren’t prepared for the growth coming their way, these individuals and families will in many ways, need to place their lives on hold, whether that means delaying having children, not taking a job opportunity or living far from friends and family. When a culture of housing cannot take root, communities that are anticipating significant population growth cannot adequately prepare to meet that growth with a local approval system that is predictable, fair and ready to support new residents.
We are at a turning point in the story of housing in our province, though. With many governments at all levels rowing in the same direction, Ontario has a tremendous opportunity to plan for growth and construct complete communities to support that growth.
—Alex Piccini is the Manager of Government Relations for OHBA
Become a member of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association.