Ontario Doubles Down on Increasing Housing Supply with New Legislation

On March 30, 2022 the Province announced the More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022. Key policy objectives of Ontario’s More Homes for Everyone Plan include:

  • Red tape reduction to enable the construction of more homes;
  • Making community housing construction easier; and
  • Protecting homebuyers, homeowners, and renters.

A focus on supply: With the exception of raising the non-resident speculation tax, the Province is doubling down on its existing approach to housing: using its powers to catalyze an increase in supply, as opposed to trying to reduce demand.

A compromise bill designed for the pre-Election Period:  Housing affordability is a hot issue in Ontario.  The Bill seems to have been designed to show commitment to and progress on the housing file, without going too far towards pleasing or offending any one stakeholder in this pre-election period.  Municipal associations, builder organizations and other stakeholders all found things in the Bill they liked. Critics found ways to say that it went too far and not far enough.

Just a first Installment: The Bill left many of the more controversial recommendations from the Housing Affordability Task Force ‘on the cutting room floor.’ Ontario made it clear that more change would be needed, and that it would come after the election. Supporting materials for the announcement described the Task Force Report as the government’s “long term housing roadmap” and promised a Housing Supply Action Plan every year for four years, starting in 2022-2023.

Who should lead on planning? For over twenty years, the pendulum has swung back and forth between more and less provincial policy leadership on land use planning in Ontario. Some favour a focus on hierarchical provincial policies to achieve provincial strategic outcomes. Others favour local processes and discretion to ‘get it right for our community.’ With today’s Bill, the question was not settled, and with four years of reform ahead, it will swing a great deal before it comes to rest.

Collaboration? Or Finger-Pointing? Many municipal leaders were delighted when Premier Ford acknowledged at the Housing Summit that provincial agencies were as likely to cause delay in approvals as municipal processes. Others point out that approval is only part of the problem and that there are over 250,000 approved units in the GTHA that have not been built by developers with approvals in hand. It appears that there is lots of blame to go around and lots of tools needed to collaborate on addressing all of the barriers to supply.

Ontario is establishing a Housing Supply Working Group to monitor progress on the “municipal implementation of provincial initiatives.” Perhaps a more collaborative mandate is needed when this group meets to convene municipalities, the federal government, various provincial ministries, industry partners and associations to assess progress on housing supply.

A Commitment to Better Data: One important but easily overlooked measure commits to better data collection.  As the adage goes, “if you can’t measure you can’t manage.” Right now, experts disagree on basics, including the size of the gap in Ontario’s housing supply. There is even less consensus on how different measures could help address it. Delivering better data could support stakeholders in coming together around evidence-based decision making. Here’s hoping that the resulting system turns up the light, not just the heat, in the years ahead.

Description of provisions in the More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022 are outlined below.

Streamlining the Municipal Decision-Making Process

The Province of Ontario is implementing numerous changes to the municipal planning approvals process, with the goal of expediting approvals for new developments and housing. These include:

Site Plan Control:

  • Amendments to the Planning Act and City of Toronto Act, 2006 which would require the mandatory delegation of decisions relating to site plan control from municipal councils to planning staff for applications received on or after July 1st, 2022;
  • An extension of the review period for site plan control applications from 30 to 60 days; and,
  • Establishing complete application requirements for site plan applications, with options for recourse within 30 days if an application has not been deemed “complete” by municipalities.

After municipalities have implemented the above site plan control changes, timeline-related changes would take effect to further ensure that strict approval timelines be adhered to for all site plan applications received on or after January 1st, 2023. Municipalities would be required to gradually refund site control application fees if a decision has not been made on an application within the required timelines, as outlined below:

  • 50% of the fee refunded if the plans and drawings are not approved within 60 days from the date the municipality received the complete application and fee;
  • 75% of the fee if the plans and drawings are not approved within 90 days from the date the municipality received the complete application and fee; and,
  • 100% of the fee if the plans and drawings are not approved within 120 days from the date the municipality received the complete application and fee.

Plans of Subdivision:

  • The establishment of a regulation-making authority to determine what can and cannot be required as a condition of a draft plan of subdivision approval, with the goal of preventing scope creep.
  • A one-time discretionary authority which allows municipalities to reinstate draft plans of subdivision which have lapsed within five years without a new application. This only applies where units have not been pre-sold.

Zoning Bylaw Amendments:

As of January 1st, 2023, timeline-based zoning bylaw amendment application refunds would be applied if a municipality does not make a decision within the required provincially-legislated timelines. These timelines are based on that date which a municipality receives a complete application and relevant fees.

  • 50% fee refund if a decision is not reached within 90 days (or 120 days with a concurrent official plan amendment application);
  • 75% fee refund if a decision is not reached within 150 days (or 180 days with a concurrent official plan amendment application); and,
  • 100% fee refund if a decision is not reached within 210 days (or 240 days with a concurrent official plan amendment application).

Ontario Building Code:

Proposed changes to the Ontario Building Code have been included to reflect modern building practices and address challenges that slow the delivery of housing projects:

  • Allowing up to 12-storey mass timber buildings;
  • Streamlining modular multi-unit residential building approvals across the province;
  • Enabling more low-rise and infill multi-residential opportunities by exploring opportunities to allow one entrance/exit for 4-6 storey residential buildings; and,
  • Exploring options to allow residential and commercial occupancy for super-tall buildings that are still under construction.

Development-Related Charges:

The Province is proposing changes to development-related charges with the goal of creating more transparency and certainty relating to fees or levies charged by municipalities to developers:

  • A requirement for municipalities to post annual financial reports for development-related charges on their websites.
  • A mandated five-year review cycle of community benefit charges (CBCs) for municipalities that have implemented them, with a requirement that councils pass a bylaw to indicate if changes are required.
  • Implementing a tiered alternative parkland dedication rate, that would only apply to Transit-Oriented Community (TOC) developments. For smaller sites that are 5 hectares or less, parkland dedication would be up to 10% of the land or its value. For sites larger than 5 hectares, parkland dedication would be up to 15% of the land or its value. A Minister’s order could identify encumbered parkland and would be deemed to count towards any parkland dedication requirements imposed by a municipality.

Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator

The Government of Ontario is introducing the Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator (CIHA) tool which would allow municipalities to submit a request to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to expedite approvals for local priorities such as market-rate housing, non-profit housing, and long-term care facilities. Local councils would be required to pass a council motion, and to host a public meeting to discuss the use of a CIHA for each project. Finally, a municipality would submit a request for Minister of Municipal Affairs, who could impose conditions on the CIHA.

The new CIHA tool largely resembles municipally requested Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs), but with added public consultation requirements to ensure that residents have an opportunity to provide feedback on such requests.

Data Collection

The Province of Ontario is also proposing changes to ensure that housing and population data is collected and shared in an efficient manner to ensure clarity and inform future actions relating to housing supply across all levels of government. These changes include:

  • Planning Act amendments to require public reporting by planning authorities on development applications that have been submitted, are deemed complete, are under review, and approved;
  • Provincial annual reporting to municipalities regarding the Ministry of Finance’s annual population projections, to highlight population growth trends; and,
  • Coordination between municipalities and industry to develop a “development approvals data standard” to ensure a more efficient and streamlined approvals process.

Ontario Land Tribunal and the Landlord and Tenant Board

The Province of Ontario is investing $19 million to reduce the backlog of cases and increase the decision-making speed at the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) and Landlord and Tenant Board. Additional changes have also been proposed including:

  • Allowing the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to refer all or parts of an Official Plan matter to the OLT for recommendation or decision; and,
  • Allowing the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to pause the 120-day decision-making period on official plans and amendments before the Minister for approval.

Ontario Homebuyer and Renter Protections

The Province of Ontario is also introducing new provisions to protect residents who buy, own, and rent homes. This includes the previously announced increase to the non-resident speculation tax rate from 15% to 20%, and the expansion of this tax across Ontario. A rebate will be available for non-citizens who become permanent resident of Canada. Other proposed changes include:

  • A provincewide working group with municipalities who intend on establish a vacant home tax, where best practices can be shared;
  • Working to establish measures relating to land speculation, such as construction shutdowns, which can be used to drive up housing costs;
  • Amendments to the New Home Construction Licensing Act, 2017 and to the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act that would increase the fines and administrative penalties;
  • Empowering the new home building industry regulator, the Home Construction Regulatory Authority with a mandate to address “unethical builder and vendor conduct”; and,
  • Changes to benefit new homebuyers, including a mandatory condominium information sheet for pre-construction units, and increasing the amount of interest that is payable on new construction units in situations such as when a project is cancelled.

Using Surplus Provincial Lands

The Province is proposing a Centre of Realty Excellence (CORE) that would determine how Ontario could better utilize its portfolio of surplus land for projects such as long-term care and non-profit housing. This would include developing a process to streamline access to these lands for housing providers.