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Opinion

Why is the Ontario government gatekeeping the development of affordable housing in Toronto?

Published on 01/10/2022

Despite the need for more affordable housing, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark is dilly-dallying on a key decision for the City of Toronto to implement its inclusionary zoning policy. This action is preventing the development of affordable housing supply and keeping vulnerable people inadequately housed.

Why is the province, yet again, meddling in a key policy decision that affects Toronto’s housing crisis?

Inclusionary zoning policies aim to improve the supply of affordable housing units (including both rentals and ownership) by requiring a proportion of units in new developments to be affordable. Key policy decisions over the past several years have been to determine the economic viability of different inclusionary zoning variables in Toronto — the proportion of new units that should be affordable, the definition of affordability, and the number of years that these units need to remain affordable.

Working through these policy decisions has taken time, largely because of the politics.

Developers, and other housing industry lobbyists, lament inclusionary zoning policies as they can reduce profit margins. But inclusionary zoning is one of the few tools we have to develop affordable housing through the market, and housing researchers have pointed to the potential that inclusionary zoning policies can have in yielding affordable housing units in Toronto.

By its own admission, Toronto is behind other major cities across North America in implementing an inclusionary zoning policy, despite Toronto’s housing crisis. In 2020, 2,700 purpose-built rental homes (an already low number) were completed, and only 4 per cent of them were affordable. Toronto’s own plan has a target of 40,000 new affordable rental and supportive housing units by 2030. After decades of leaving affordable housing supply to the market to solve, tools like inclusionary zoning are needed to meet this demand.

Last fall, the City of Toronto approved an inclusionary zoning framework and bylaws. But given the politics, the parameters were too low and too slow compared to what the evidence showed could have been possible.

Even though city council passed an inclusionary zoning policy that fell short of its potential, the Ontario government is still creating obstacles in its implementation. In fact, in the years of Toronto’s inclusionary zoning process, the Ontario government has routinely inserted itself in planning decisions affecting housing supply in the city.

In 2019, the Ontario government passed legislation that limited inclusionary zoning policies in municipalities across the province to areas around “protected major transit station areas” (PMTSAs). This meant that even though inclusionary zoning policies could be viable in areas outside of PMTSAs within municipalities, amendments to the province’s Planning Act prevented that from happening. What’s more, while municipalities must identify PMTSAs, the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is responsible for approving them.

Toronto’s inclusionary zoning policies were to come into effect on either Sept. 18, or the date of the minister’s approval of PMTSAs, but such an approval has not yet been made. This is affecting Toronto’s ability to create affordable housing units. It’s unclear when such an approval will be received, as the Ontario government provided the minister with the discretion to suspend a 120-day review timeline through its own Bill 109 — Building More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022.

The irony. Are people who need access to affordable homes not included in the Ontario government’s definition of “everyone?” For every year that inclusionary zoning is delayed in Toronto, 3,159 affordable units are foregone. And with each delay, the more expensive it becomes to build these affordable homes.

What is the Ontario government’s plan to build more affordable homes in Toronto? When solutions are brought to its door, the Ontario government decides to dither and delay. If the provincial government can’t do what is needed, it’s best to get out of the way.

Originally published as an op-ed in the Toronto Star.

Topic(s)

Cities and communities, Housing and homelessness

Summary

Why is the province, yet again, meddling in a key policy decision that affects Toronto’s housing crisis?