For many of you who read this blog, it might seem that the housing-affordability crisis is an issue isolated to Toronto and the GTA, but it’s affecting all of Ontario. High sale and rental prices across the province are making it difficult for people to afford the housing they need.
The Ontario government is developing a Housing Supply Action Plan, and they want your feedback on the issue. You can take the survey here until January 25, 2019. Whether you support the current provincial government or not, this issue is worth learning more about. The government has broken down the problem of increasing affordable housing in Ontario into five main areas of concern.
1) It takes too long to approve new build projects
From municipalities and local utility agencies to federal authorities, the list of likely regulators regarding the creation of new housing seems to grow with each new proposal.
“The various regulatory requirements and approvals were established to serve specific public interests, policy objectives or government goals. For example, rules and processes exist to ensure the health and safety of residents, protect environmentally and culturally sensitive areas, and support economic development and a vibrant agricultural sector. Efforts to streamline these requirements need to balance these multiple goals.”
2) There isn’t enough variety in housing options
We’ve written about this concern before from the side of urban planning in Toronto and the need for more mid-rise buildings in major cities. High-rise condo towers and million-dollar freehold houses are failing to meet the needs of many urban dwellers (and apparently rural dwellers as well). Downsizers and new families are making up a large portion of the demand-side of the real estate market, but the supply side is lagging in the creation of affordable, accessible, and desirable housing options for both groups.
“In recent years, there has been increasing public discussion about the lack of “missing middle” housing. This typically includes low-to-mid-rises, as well as ground-related housing types such as row/townhouses and semi-detached homes, located close to the services and amenities required for daily living (e.g., workplaces, schools, and transit). “Missing middle” housing has also been used to refer to family-sized condo and apartment units and housing that is affordable to middle-income households, including non-luxury rental housing.”
3) It costs too much to build new housing
Large scale housing development needs to be built on land with access to essential infrastructure like water and sewer lines, known as serviced land. The limited availability of serviced land in areas where people want to live means the price of that land is driven up. In addition, the government imposes certain fees and charges to the development process, fees that in turn help fund the creation and maintenance of serviced land, but nevertheless make new housing development an expensive investment.
“Under the Development Charges Act, 1997, municipalities are permitted to levy certain charges on new developments, including housing and commercial developments. These funds are designed to assist municipalities in paying a portion of the costs for growth related services, such as roads, water services, and police and fire services.”
Under the Education Act, school boards may also levy education development charges. Education development charges are primarily levied by school boards that cannot accommodate new students in their existing schools and may only be used to purchase and prepare land for future school sites.”
4) It’s difficult for both landlords and tenants
The Ontario Fair Housing Plan, implemented in spring 2017, changed the landscape for landlords and tenants when it included measures for province-wide rent control. Since spring 2017, rental rates in Toronto have increased dramatically to a current average of $2,460 for a 705 sqft condo.* The rent control measures have made landlords stricter in finding a suitable tenant, as well as incited many to increase initial rental rates in lieu of larger increases later on to offset the costs of their investment property.
And now the Ontario government has removed rent control on all new units occupied after November 15, 2018, which eases the financial stress on landlords but opens the door for even higher rent increases in the future.
At the same time, tenants continue to struggle to find affordable rental housing, deal with challenging or negligent landlords, and demand greater protection from poor housing conditions and unlawful evictions. The issues facing landlords and tenants is voiced loudly in urban centres like downtown Toronto, but the problem is also impacting northern and rural communities across Ontario.
“In Ontario, rental housing is regulated by the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006. This Act establishes rules for landlords and tenants, including rent increase rules. It also establishes the Landlord and Tenant Board, which helps landlords and tenants resolve disputes.
Many small landlords say the Act makes it difficult to be a landlord. On the other hand, tenants have said they need stronger protections against unlawful evictions, and poorly maintained rental housing.
Second units, such as basement apartments, are an important part of the rental market and can make better use of existing homes. Yet creating new legal second units is difficult because of government requirements, such as the Building Code and local bylaws/restrictions.”
5) There needs to be more housing innovation
Yes! There needs to be more housing innovation. We’ve discussed before how urban consumer lifestyles are changing Toronto condo designs, but it needs to go beyond just condo buildings to address all forms of housing in Ontario.
In major cities like Toronto and Vancouver, housing innovation must go hand-in-hand with city planning and urban design innovation. Making the streets, parks, and public spaces more accessible and open to the people who live in the city, and then adapting the housing options such as Toronto condos into a broader urban plan for the city.
Here some of the questions the government is posing to all of us and hoping for our feedback:
1) How do we encourage innovation in the building industry while maintaining high standards of safety and efficiency?
2) Are there any innovative forms of homeownership (e.g., shared ownership or rent-to-own models) that you feel could help make housing more attainable?
3) Do you have any creative ideas to make better use of existing homes, buildings and neighbourhoods to increase the supply of housing?
4) What other creative solutions could help increase the supply of housing?What type of protections would help new home buyers?
Again, this is an opportunity to add your voice and share your concerns about affordable housing in Ontario. Complete the survey here until January 25, 2019.