Premier Doug Ford’s government will override local municipal zoning to allow duplexes and triplexes across Ontario as part of sweeping new housing legislation, the Star has learned.
The Progressive Conservatives want to “remove rules that prevent missing middle” housing — multi-dwelling units curbed by local zoning laws favouring single-family homes.
In legislation to be tabled when the house resumes Tuesday, the Tories will “accelerate planning” in a number of potentially controversial ways.
They will limit the role of conservation authorities to “commenting agencies” focused on preventing floods and other natural hazards rather than panels that residents have used to stall development.
“You have to have bold, transformative change in the immediate and long term,” Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said in an interview Thursday.
The province will amend the Building Code to allow two- and three-unit homes in existing houses provided the same square footage is retained — so no extensions or additional floors without municipal permission.
Asked if he’s concerned about NIMBYism from “not-in-my-backyard” opponents of such development, which is already allowed in Toronto, the minister said: “We’re past that; we’re in a housing-supply crisis.”
Clark’s comments come after the Star obtained a confidential cabinet document showing the Tories also want targets for municipalities to force them to approve more housing construction.
According to the draft PowerPoint deck, the Tories will eliminate “unnecessary approvals and inhibiting rules, such as waiving site plan control for smaller developments, limiting third party appeals and removing unnecessary public meetings.”
It says the government is “streamlining approvals and removing barriers” by conservation authorities (CAs).
“Review and re-scope their role to streamline permitting, freeze fees and direct CAs to make land available for housing,” the document said.
Clark said the province merely wants Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities to “focus on their core mandate” of watershed management and being “valuable commenting agencies” working with communities.
“We recognize that things do have to change,” he said.
However, officials stress there will be no changes to permit housing development on the massive Greenbelt of protected land across the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
The internal memo added the government would “provide municipal targets and seek pledges to align municipal work with the province’s 1.5 million home goal.”
Ford has promised to build 150,000 new homes annually for the next decade, even though the best year for housing starts since 1987 has been 100,000.
About one-quarter of those — 375,000 — will be built in Toronto and Ottawa, necessitating the need for what Clark called “gentle intensification” to increase density.
“I’m probably not going to make 100,000 housing starts this year and maybe not next year,” the minister said, underscoring the urgency of building homes for the estimated two million people who will move to Ontario by 2032.
The minister emphasized Queen’s Park would collaborate with municipalities to achieved their housing construction targets.
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As first disclosed by the Star earlier this month, the Tories will scrap development charges on “inclusionary zoning” projects, which should encourage more affordable rental housing to be built.
Inclusionary zoning allows municipalities to mandate affordable housing units in new developments.
The province will offset any lost revenue to cities — in Toronto, residential development fees range from $25,470 to $93,978 per unit depending on the size of the home — using Ontario’s $1.6-billion share of the federal government’s $4-billion “Housing Accelerator Fund.”
Clark said the government also plans to “streamline approvals” by removing barriers to building homes, such as duplication by regional governments.
That means “removing planning approvals for certain upper tier municipalities,” according to the leaked cabinet submission.
Thirty of Ontario’s 444 municipalities are defined as “upper tier,” including the regional governments of Peel, York, Durham, Halton, Waterloo, and Niagara.
Toronto is considered a “single tier” municipality because it is not part of any regional administration, while those that are — such as Mississauga, Brampton, and Vaughan, among others — are “lower tier.”
The document says the Tories want “disentanglement of upper tiers from planning decisions” in order to expedite housing construction.
“Remove planning decision making from certain upper-tier municipalities and limit their role to commenting on lower-tier planning decisions,” it continues.
Clark said next week’s legislation complements his September bill that gave “strong-mayor” powers to Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario’s two largest cities.
Under those changes, which will be extended to some other large municipalities next year, the mayors will have sweeping authority over city budgets and the hiring and firing of senior staff.
Only a two-thirds vote of city council can overrule a “strong mayor” on matters deemed a “provincial priority,” such as affordable housing projects, public transit, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics have argued the change undermines the influence of local councillors.
Speaking with reporters Monday in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, Ford said one of the rationales behind his strong-mayor push was to limit NIMBYism.
“If you have a certain part of council complaining day in and day out — ‘We need more homes, we need more rentals. Oh, by the way, don’t build in my backyard, build in the guy’s down the street’— hopefully we’ll move forward,” said Ford, adding other municipalities will get strong mayors in 2023.
“We’re using Ottawa and Toronto as a test area per se, and then we’re going move forward a year after that and give it to other regions, other larger municipalities. So when you get elected as mayor, it means something.”
Behind the scenes, the Tories are wary external factors, such as rising mortgage interest rates and a sputtering real estate market, could hinder their plans.
There is concern that the sagging pre-construction market and rising labour costs might make it unprofitable for developers to build right now, so some might sit on land and wait for improved economic conditions.
That could then put pressure on the provincial government to build more affordable housing on its own land.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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