Why is building new housing so difficult in Ontario?

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Why the  building new housing so hard in Ontario?

Ontario badly needs new housing, but the process to get there suffers from many problems.

As the province faces a serious housing crisis, this issue is a of the main issues that could influence votes in the municipal elections on October 24. In order to better understand what makes the construction of new housing so tedious, here are some explanations.

Skyrocketing home prices over the past decade have destroyed the dream of many Ontarians of one day being able to own their homes.

According to the director of the Center for Urban Research and development of the Metropolitan University of Toronto, David Amborski, the province suffers from shortages in many areas.

We need a housing stock, rental housing and affordable housing. We are behind on these three fronts, he notes.

Premier Doug Ford has adopted a target of 1.5 million homes within 10 years, a goal recommended by the province's Housing Affordability Task Force.

This daunting task requires greatly accelerating the pace of new construction. Thus, the creation of 100,000 new housing units and 13,000 rental units has been launched according to the province.

The problem, according to economist Mike Moffatt of the University of Ottawa's Smart Prosperity Institute, is that many of the province's 444 municipalities have much more modest targets.

In other words, in the current state of affairs, the number of constructions will not reach the ambitions of the government.

On the other hand, promoters are struggling to keep up with demand.

At the root of this problem is a lack of qualified personnel. According to Statistics Canada figures from June, there are 82,000 job vacancies across the country.

Added to this are the cost of wages, equipment and raw materials, which have surged during the pandemic.

For many promoters, this means thinking twice about embarking on a new project when every new home poses a potential financial risk to the business.

Finally, taxes and government fees are also on the rise in large cities.

Toronto City Council voted for a 46% increase taxes imposed on developers over the next two years.

Zoning rules do nothing to help in most cases.

A good example is Toronto. Many neighborhoods only allow single or semi-detached homes.

An owner can thus destroy a bungalow to build a single-family house but not a duplex, a triplex or a small apartment building. To build this kind of housing, it is necessary to do a public consultation and obtain an amendment to the zoning law. This process is long and expensive.

Until very recently, owners could not build more than one unit per lot.

As for mid-rise buildings or tall towers, they can only be built in certain well-defined and largely minority areas of Toronto.

The result is a situation where the Queen City is divided between neighborhoods filled with single-family homes, areas with high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums but where there is nothing in between.

“North York is a good example. There is the axis of Yonge Street with enormous density and, right next to it, there are individual houses very close to two subway stations. From an urban planning point of view, it doesn't make sense.

— Sean Galbraith, Principal Urbanist of Galbraith & Associates

The same problem exists in other cities, according to the February report of the province's Housing Affordability Task Force. In Ottawa, nearly half of residential lots are zoned for semi-detached homes, while single-detached zones predominate in most Toronto suburbs despite their proximity to public transit or highways.


For Cheryll Case, Senior Urban Planner at CP Planning, the housing system we have today in Toronto and most Ontario cities was designed to prioritize homeowners and those who are more wealthy.

City planners and real estate developers complain about the complex and time-consuming processes in Ontario municipalities to obtain permits for their projects.

According to the director of the Center for Urban Research and Metropolitan University of Toronto land use planning, David Amborski, it can take 10 years from buying the land to building the building.

The option of multiple authorizations can take months or even years with different government departments.

That's without taking into account expensive studies and public meetings to listen to comments and the grievances of the community.

Despite all the good will to obtain permits, decades of a dysfunctional system and outdated bureaucracy make obtaining permits too difficult housing needs of Ontarians, reads the report of the provincial task force.

In addition, residents may fiercely oppose projects to densify their neighborhood. This can take the form of resistance not only during public consultations but also during appeal procedures.

For $400, a group can appeal a project to an Ontario land use tribunal, even though the project has been approved by the local city council.

Mark Richardson works with Housing Now TO and states that affordable housing projects are often the target of this type of action.

You can block a project for 18 or 24 months. During this time, nothing is built, he explains.

The provincial working group specifies that this possibility of triggering an appeal procedure has led to abuses of the from residents in order to block projects.

With information from Ryan Patrick Jones

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