Ontario passes housing bill despite criticism from municipalities over funding

The Ontario government has passed housing legislation that overrides some municipal zoning laws and eliminates some development fees in an effort to follow through on the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes.

The legislation—also known as Bill 23 or the “More Homes Built Faster Act”—was first proposed by the Ford government about one month ago and has since been criticized for leaving municipalities short billions of dollars.

In addition to setting housing goals for 29 large cities in Ontario, the Progressive Conservatives proposed numerous legislative changes, including allowing up to three units, as well as duplexes and triplexes, on a single residential lot without bylaw amendments or municipal permissions.

These units, as well as affordable housing, non-profit housing and “inclusionary zoning units, will be exempt from additional fees such as development charges, parkland dedication levies and community benefit charges.

Development charges, which are collected by cities to help pay for the cost of municipal services or impacted infrastructure such as roads and transit, will also be reduced up to 25 per cent for family-sized rental units.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has previously said these changes could leave communities short about $5 billion. This could lead to higher property taxes or service cuts.

In Toronto alone, the loss of development charges could result in a revenue loss of about $230 million, according to a staff report presented to city council.

“This would negatively impact the city’s ability to provide the services necessary to support growth over the long term,” the report states.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has already warned the province of an $815-million hole in the city’s budget brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and says that further revenue losses could be “devastating.”

“This would cause the postponement, and otherwise just not proceeding with many, many capital projects in the city,” Tory said earlier this month.

“And the part of it that is so frustrating for me is that those capital projects relate to expanding the sewer pipe to accommodate those buildings, or the transit that is going to be needed to serve those buildings or the daycare that is going to be needed to look after kids who move into those buildings.”

The bill also temporarily freezes conservation authority fees while reducing the agency’s power. Conservation authorities will no longer need to consider factors such as pollution or land conservation when approving permit requirements.

Environmental groups have voiced concerns about limiting conservation authorities’ ability to block development for environmental reasons, especially as the government looks to open up some protected land for development.

The province is currently undergoing a 30-day consultation process to remove about 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt in order to accommodate the building of more homes. The government has also said it will add an additional 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt—although it is unclear where this will be.

The government says that construction on land removed from the Greenbelt would be expected to begin no later than 2025.

“If these conditions are not met, the government will return these properties to the Greenbelt,” officials said in a news release.

This is a developing story. More to come.

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