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Ontario passes housing bill amid criticism from cities, conservation authorities

Bill is part of province's plan to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years

Ontario passed a housing bill Monday intended to spur development. Critics, however, say it will lead to higher property taxes, weaken conservation authority powers and not actually make homes more affordable.

The new law is just one move among many in a flurry of recent housing changes from the Progressive Conservative government, including plans to open some areas of the protected Greenbelt land to development and allowing the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to pass bylaws with just one-third of council support.

Premier Doug Ford's housing push comes as the government attempts to get 1.5 million homes built in 10 years, while high inflation and interest rates have already forced the province to revise projections for housing starts downward. Ontario expects to build fewer than 80,000 new homes a year in the next couple of years.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said Ontario is facing a "severe" housing crisis and it requires bold solutions.

"If we are truly going to build affordable housing in this province, if all the mayors and councillors who said during their municipal election they want to [incentivize] more housing opportunity in their communities, this is a way that the government has very clearly said we wanted to investigate," Clark said Monday after the bill's passage.

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One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is freezing, reducing and exempting fees developers pay to build affordable housing, non-profit housing and inclusionary zoning units — meaning affordable housing in new developments — as well as some rental units.

Those fees go to municipalities and are then used to pay for services to support new homes, such as road and sewer infrastructure and community centres.

How the bill impacts housing affordability

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario says the changes could leave municipalities short $5 billion and see taxpayers footing the bill — either in the form of higher property taxes or service cuts — and there is nothing in the bill that would guarantee improved housing affordability.

Clark argues that in the Greater Toronto Area, the average homebuyer faces $116,900 in municipal development charges and fees added to the price of a home, but AMO and other critics say that reducing or eliminating those fees does not guarantee developers will pass the savings on to buyers.

Clark said he is working with the federal government to secure support for municipalities to pay for critical infrastructure.

Critics of the bill have labelled it pro-sprawl and say it won't meaningfully address housing affordability, but the government has defended the plan since it was released following Ontario's Oct. 24 municipal elections. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Ontario for All, a United Way project, told the government when the bill was being considered by committee that the legislation would constrain municipal efforts to require affordable housing in new developments and puts at risk rental replacement programs, which ensure tenants have access to affordable units when apartment buildings are redeveloped.

The organization also questioned the bill's definition of affordable.

"By setting the definition of affordability for home ownership at 80 per cent of the market rate, units that would have sold for a million dollars are now considered affordable and exempted from development charges if they sell for $800,000," Ontario for All coordinator Sean Meagher told committee earlier this month.

"Eight hundred thousand dollar homes are not affordable homes."

How the bill impacts conservation authorities

The bill also limits the areas conservation authorities can consider in development permissions, removing factors such as pollution and conservation of the land.

Conservation Ontario said it shifts some burdens to municipalities and weakens protections for people and properties.

"The planning process is insufficient to ensure natural hazard concerns are addressed through design and construction alone," the organization told committee.

"This places additional pressure, responsibility and liability on municipalities that could result, for example, in building permits being issued in error."

Clark said he values the work of conservation authorities and they should focus on their core mandates of flood mitigation and natural hazard protection.

Bill passes as proposed changes to Greenbelt loom

Meanwhile, the government is still accepting public feedback on its proposed amendments to the Greenbelt Act that, if approved, would remove 7,400 acres from the protected land but also add 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere, in a bid to build at least 50,000 homes in the GTHA.

The Greenbelt Act was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

Clark had previously said he would not cut the protected area or do a land swap.

WATCH | Premier Doug Ford has also backtracked on his promise not to touch the Greenbelt:

Here’s what Doug Ford has said over the years about developing Ontario’s Greenbelt 19 days agoDuration0:40 From pledging to never build on it in 2018 to saying it's part of the solution to Ontario's housing crisis in 2022, here's how the premier's position on the controversial issue has changed.

Media reports have suggested that some prominent developers who are Progressive Conservative donors stand to benefit from the move. Some bought land not long before the government's announcement earlier this month, despite the land being ostensibly undevelopable at the time, according to investigations by the Toronto Star and the Narwhal, as well as The Globe and Mail.

CBC Toronto has also uncovered additional properties linked to a prominent developer family in Ontario, days after reporting they're poised to win a decades-long battle to build homes on protected Greenbelt land.

  • Prominent developer family linked to more Greenbelt properties slated for housing

When asked Monday about the optics of developers buying land shortly before the announcement, Clark said it was important to do everything he can to get shovels in the ground.

The Opposition NDP's sole leadership contestant, Marit Stiles, has asked the auditor general to investigate.

"I think where there's a whole lot of smoke, somebody better be looking for the fire," she said Monday after question period.

Opposition condemns bill

Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell says the vast majority of Ontarians won't benefit from the bill.

"Bill 23 will make Ford's developer buddies even richer, while hurting Ontarians by making the housing crisis even worse," said Bell in a statement.

"Ford's legislation jeopardizes environmentally sensitive land; it puts renters at greater risk of being evicted or having their rent jacked up; and it will see purpose-built affordable rental buildings torn down and replaced with luxury condos the average person cannot afford."

The party is calling on the government to increase rental housing supply, bring back rent control and spend more on non-market rate housing. It also wants to see more affordable and missing middle homes in existing neighbourhoods.

  • Ontario's new housing legislation might work against goal of more homes, municipalities group says

The Ontario Green Party, meanwhile, condemned the lack of consultation on the bill, citing a lack of approval from anti-poverty activists, municipal representatives, healthcare workers and Indigenous people.

The Chiefs of Ontario also issued a statement saying the government's passage of the bill without consulting First Nations violates the province's duty to consult.

"Pushing this destructive piece of legislation through, despite widespread public opposition, and without meaningful consultation from the public, including Indigenous groups, is a dereliction of duty and inexcusable," Mike Schreiner, the Green party's leader, said in a statement.

"I call on the Premier to repeal Bill 23, halt their destructive pro-sprawl agenda and plans to pave over the Greenbelt and to implement real solutions to the housing crisis." "

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