Ontario pushes new bill to boost housing construction

Bill aims to speed up construction but sidesteps controversial density policy

Ontario pushes new bill to boost housing construction

The Ontario government has introduced an omnibus bill to remove obstacles to home construction and reach its goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra said the proposed legislation would give municipalities more tools to spur housing development, including "use it or lose it" policies on developers and streamlined approvals for standardized housing designs.

“We have made a commitment to get at least 1.5 million homes built by 2031,” Calandra said at a press conference. Municipalities know their communities best. They know where it makes sense to build homes, and that’s why we’re supporting them by giving them the funding and the tools they need to build more homes and to build the infrastructure needed to support homes of all types.”

The bill seeks to remove barriers to building additional housing, such as garden and laneway suites, exempt standardized housing designs from certain planning rules to speed up approvals and allow universities to build higher-density student residences more quickly.

It would also enable municipalities to reallocate water and wastewater servicing if a development sits inactive for a certain period, eliminate minimum parking requirements near major transit stations, and allow faster increases in development charges.

However, the proposed legislation does not include measures to automatically allow fourplexes on residential properties, a policy the federal government has tied to $5 billion in new housing funding.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner criticized the bill's absence of the fourplex policy, calling the government's response to the housing crisis a "garden hose" to a "raging forest fire."

The NDP's Marit Stiles said the bill fails to present a real plan, with much of it focused on reversing previous policy changes.

Read next: Trudeau teases potential mortgage rule changes before April budget.

“The bill makes clear that this government doesn’t want – or perhaps know how to – take seriously the urgency of this housing crisis,” said Stiles. “All told, this bill won’t make it easier for you to find a home that you can afford or protect you from illegal eviction.”

Environmental Defence also warned that some aspects could promote low-density sprawl.

“Land speculators could demand at any time that farmland, wetlands and wildlife habitat be earmarked for sprawl development, with the new law letting them appeal any refusal,” the advocacy group wrote in a statement.

While municipalities have welcomed measures in the bill to spur housing starts, the Ontario Big City Mayors group said the province still needs to address its commitment to making municipalities "whole" for previous development charge changes.

“We continue to call on the province to sit down with municipalities for a municipal-fiscal review, which includes how they will address their commitment to keeping us whole,” the mayors said.

Make sure to get all the latest news to your inbox on Canada’s mortgage and housing markets by signing up for our free daily newsletter here.