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Major housing legislation expected next week: Sources

October 20, 2022

The Ford government is expected to unveil a new piece of its housing plan next week.

Three sources close to the PCs and multiple industry stakeholders said they’re expecting the government to table a new housing bill next week. One source close to the government said he assumed it would be tabled Tuesday, given that Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark is set to give a speech on the subject to the Toronto Region Board of Trade that afternoon.

The government has kept a lid on what exactly the new legislation will contain, as it typically does with legislation it hasn’t tabled yet in the assembly.

Stakeholders say they’re expecting the province to give itself a suite of new tools to speed up development and intensification. Some of those tools will likely be drawn from the Housing and Affordability Task Force report.

New “strong mayor” powers being given to those elected in Toronto and Ottawa are going to be expanded, according to two sources, including one close to the PCs. Premier Doug Ford alluded to this on Monday.

The legislation is also expected to include changes to development charges, which municipalities set and developers pay, to encourage construction, the same two sources said. Changes to how local heritage and conservation protections are applied to give the province more authority over them are also expected, these sources added.

These two sources, plus a third stakeholder, also said the bill will add workarounds for where local zoning is at odds with a municipality or region’s growth plan.

QP Briefing granted anonymity to these sources and others because they weren’t supposed to be disclosing the information that they did.

Two different industry sources with knowledge of discussions surrounding the legislation say the government may look to encourage development in and around commercial areas.

“So, the theory there is, you’ve got clapped-out old shopping malls that are dying as commercial properties. But if you were to stick towers on top of them, not only would they create the user group for the mall, but could be better land use than a bunch of parking lots … adjacent a two-storey building,” one said, speaking anonymously.

According to unconfirmed “high-quality gossip” from that source, the government may also set minimum height requirements for new buildings in some areas — especially near densification targets like transit stations. The province’s current Transit-Oriented Communities Act, which aims to speed up development near transit, doesn’t mention height requirements. The change would trump many municipalities’ bylaws that bar buildings over certain heights.

Many local councillors have the incentive to deny densification to cater to their current constituents. This move would make it “so that it’s less about local councillors hacking things down and more about setting floors of what needs to be achieved,” the other of the two industry sources said, adding that it’s a politically “survivable” move.

“If you’re not gonna put tall stuff near transit, where the hell else are you gonna put it?” they said.

The change aligns with the theme that the government is ready to get tougher with municipalities, which it has blamed in the past for slowing down housing.

Many rumours are flying around about what could be in the bill, another source cautioned. It’s also being fine-tuned, as recently as today, according to the two sources first mentioned in this story, who separately shared that the expansion to strong mayor powers and other changes were incoming.

Stakeholders, and close-to-government sources referred to in this story, are expecting it to be a fairly comprehensive package, making it wider in scope than Clark’s More Homes for Everyone Act, which the PCs passed as Bill 109 a few weeks before the last election. That bill, which contained no new spending, made marginal tweaks to things like planning and approvals but was criticized by housing advocates for failing to strongly encourage or mandate more density through zoning changes or other means.

Forthcoming housing legislation, like the More Homes for Everyone Act, is meant to work toward the government’s goal of getting 1.5 million homes built in Ontario this decade. Same goes for Bill 3, Clark’s Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, which while not mentioning housing directly, was repeatedly talked about by Ford and the housing minister as having the goal of speeding up municipalities’ approvals of housing projects.

Whatever specifics the bill includes, “big bold changes” are needed to deliver on that promise, Toronto’s Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) president Dave Wilkes said in a statement. “And as an industry we are hopeful that the upcoming legislation will achieve this.”

Source: QP Briefing, Jack Hauen and Charlie Pinkerton, 19 October 2022

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