Let cities build affordable housing: An open letter to the Honourable Peter Milczyn, Ontario Minister of Housing
Published on 22/02/2018
In December 2017, the Ontario government published draft regulations on the use of Inclusionary Zoning in Ontario. These regulations outline limits on how municipalities can require affordable housing units to be built as part of residential developments. In an open letter to Ontario Housing Minister Peter Milczyn, Alan Broadbent writes that to make effective Inclusionary Zoning possible, the province should let go of the desire to control how cities make decisions. Instead, it should focus on how it can work with cities to create affordable rental housing options.
The Honourable Peter Milczyn
Ontario Minister of Housing and
Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy
College Park 17th Floor
777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5
February 20, 2018
As you acknowledged in your recent Toronto Star op-ed, you have been hearing a great deal from concerned stakeholders about the draft regulations that your ministry put forward on Inclusionary Zoning. At Maytree, we share the concerns that the original proposal would likely short-circuit the potential of Inclusionary Zoning as a tool to create affordable housing before it has a chance to be tested in Ontario.
That would be a real loss. We need more tools that can create affordable housing. The new commitments from the federal government in the National Housing Strategy, along with commitments from the province, are a welcome investment in addressing long-neglected housing needs. However, without testing out other approaches like Inclusionary Zoning, those investments won’t come near to producing the scale of affordable housing required.
Unfortunately, the draft regulations are seemingly designed to make Inclusionary Zoning sufficiently unappealing that many municipalities will not adopt it. They are also unlikely to produce meaningful volumes of affordable housing for those that do. To make effective Inclusionary Zoning possible, the province needs to let go of the desire to control how cities make decisions and instead focus on how it can work with cities that implement Inclusionary Zoning to create affordable rental housing options for people.
While Ontario is unique in Canada in handing local governments the primary responsibility for affordable housing, the provincial government seems unwilling to let cities use their own planning processes and tax dollars to come up with solutions. The draft regulations are filled with province-wide restrictions on how municipalities can implement Inclusionary Zoning, whether on the minimum size of development, the maximum set-aside of affordable units, or even the maximum length of time for which affordability can be required. Maytree has recommended removing the maximum set-asides, and the province should look at providing even more flexibility to cities.
A refusal to allow cities to craft policies to meet their own local needs is a consistent theme of provincial policy, one we have seen on road tolls and countless other issues. It’s unnecessary and unhelpful. Giving cities flexibility allows them to design policies that fit their local needs and markets, and to experiment with different approaches so they can learn from each other. Given the extent to which the Toronto context differs from Thunder Bay or Windsor, a one-size-fits-all provincial rule is far more likely to miss its goals than regulations designed by local governments, answerable to their local council and residents rather than to Queen’s Park.
The draft Inclusionary Zoning regulations offer local governments the choice between funding 40 per cent of the cost of affordable units or adopting Community Planning Permit Systems. This use of Inclusionary Zoning as a bargaining chip puts two worthwhile ideas together to create one harmful one. While improving planning systems to encourage housing supply is an important component of a comprehensive approach to housing affordability, it sets a damaging precedent to hold city budgets ransom to advance the preferred policy approach of the provincial government. If there were a compelling provincial interest in requiring pre-zoning approaches, that should be addressed directly and consistently, rather than as a local price to pay to retain flexibility in applying Inclusionary Zoning, an approach likely to lead to Inclusionary Zoning not being used at all.
In your comments responding to the release of the National Housing Strategy, you emphasized the need for a partnership among all three levels of government to make sure people’s housing needs are met. Cities don’t need babysitters on Inclusionary Zoning, but they do need partners to maximize the potential of the policy tool. While Inclusionary Zoning can deliver affordable home ownership in a relatively straightforward manner, it takes further policy and investment to deliver what is needed more, which is affordable rental homes owned and operated by non-profits for the long term. That cost shouldn’t be borne by new development alone, and it shouldn’t be borne by municipalities alone. Both the province and cities will need to invest to produce affordable rental housing.
Last year the province took bold steps on rent control, on minimum wages, and on pharmacare. Inclusionary Zoning doesn’t need that level of boldness from the province – it requires stepping out of the way. In your revised proposal for regulations, I ask you to give Inclusionary Zoning a chance to succeed.
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