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May 16, 2019

Ontario hammers out its affordable housing policy

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | Published in The Lawyer's Daily 

Back-to-back announcements from the province of Ontario — the Community Housing Renewal Strategy (CHRS) and the Ontario Housing Supply Action Plan (OHSAP) — have now framed out the Ford government’s affordable housing policy. For housing providers and municipalities worried about their local housing corporations, the two documents have to be read together.  

But before we get into that, two quick observations.

First, could Steve Clark, the minister of housing, seem any nicer of a guy? Seriously, I feel like he’s on my men’s league hockey team. I don’t want a meeting with him, I want to buy him a pitcher of beer.

Second, for those hoping for Greenbelt development, that’s pretty much off the table. And that, my friends, will turn the Greenbelt into probably the longest lasting legacy of the Dalton McGuinty Liberals. And, you know what? It’s a good legacy, given that climate change is the biggest global problem facing us in the next decade and that trees are C02 sponges, helping to control pollution in Toronto — a city of three million. Now, I appreciate that not doing irreparable harm to millions of people is a low bar, but good on the Ford government for sticking to that Liberal policy.

Back to the housing strategy. To see the big picture, I think you have to look at the two policies in inverse order. The OHSAP is the overarching piece. The CHRS is related to low income housing, so let’s start with the former.

At the Habitat for Humanity site in Scarborough, Ont., on May 2, a large banner behind Clark read: “More Housing, More Choice.” He said this again and again in his speech. So, in case you missed it, the message is: we will create so much supply, at so many price levels, in so many places that everyone will get to live where they want, at a price they can, you might say, a-Ford.

OK, maybe I won’t buy the minister a second pitcher of beer because that sounds like Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and all their friends who live in the 100-acre wood in their unique homes. But if you look past this eye-rolling rhetoric, there are a couple of specific policy initiatives that will at least move us toward that goal.

First, a number of key decision makers in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing seem hell-bent on making sure we create more rental units in basements and laneways. And, that’s a good thing. Those accommodations may end up smaller, but they will create more choice for people in Toronto where fewer existed before.

Whether we are talking large scale production, or homeowners doing it one unit at a time, is beside the point. Remember, there is no rent control on new units, so this is a tempting proposition. (Note to the minister: your legislation on this needs a little tweak to make it clear that a basement that was finished before conversion to a rental unit is exempt).

Second, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has been reincarnated as the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). I am not a municipal lawyer, but the way I read it, LPAT will now be able to make a final decision on planning merits. The OMB, by any other name, is still the OMB. For housing advocates, I count that as a good thing. It’s not easy for developers planning market units to deal with backyard issues and it’s not like it’s easier if you are a non-profit doing low income or supportive housing.

I know there is more to the policy, but those are the two that stand out for me as having useful impact on low income housing development.

There was one more thing in the announcement itself that I am sure no non-profit or co-op missed: Clark made the announcement at a Habitat for Humanity site. Plus, he must have mentioned non-profits three times. Put a pin in that, folks. I am going to come back to it.

This is the first of a two-part series.

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