Housing Summit Heralded for Progress, Schreiner Still Skeptical

Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark held a virtual housing summit on Wednesday with municipal leaders from across Ontario. The goal was to find ways to solve the province’s housing crisis, the twin furies of limited supply and sky-high prices, and all parties say some good progress was made. Guelph’s MPP though has his doubts.

At the summit, Ford announced $45 million for something called a Streamline Development Approval Fund. It will reportedly help Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities to modernize, streamline and accelerate processes for managing and approving housing applications by setting up something like a single online porthole to submit and manage applications.

There was also another $8 million offered through the Audit and Accountability Fund to help large urban municipalities identify potential savings and efficiencies through third-party reviews in the hope that it will further accelerate the creation of new housing and modernize municipal services. The Province will also initiate an Ontario-wide data standard that will help create consistency across municipalities for planning processes, and that will in turn allow the Government to create better data.

“Young families, seniors and all hardworking Ontarians are desperate for housing that meets their needs and budget,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “At a time when our province is growing, our government will continue to use every tool we have to help municipalities get more homes built faster to help more families realize the dream of home ownership.”

With the Canadian Real Estate Association reporting that Guelph housing prices in December surpassed $1 million on average, and that prices increased 28.8 per cent between 2020 and 2021, Mayor Cam Guthrie said that he was pleased with the direction of the summit and feels that Ford and Clark genuinely heard mayors and regional chairs about their housing concerns.

“I am aligned with the Province’s approach that it’s important to get all parties talking and sharing solutions – but it’s even more important to take action for the families who need housing they can afford,” Guthrie said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “As we work on increasing supply, we also need to figure out why there’s a gap between housing units that are approved and what’s actually built.”

“After today’s Summit, I am hopeful that important changes are coming to make sure families in Guelph and across Ontario have the housing options they need,” Guthrie added.

Not all Guelph politicians agreed that progress was made at today’s summit. As the meeting with the premier started to wind down, Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner had a summit of his own with Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa Dr. Carolyn Whitzman and Graham Cubitt who’s the Director of Projects and Development at Indwell, a non-profit that builds affordable housing projects.

 

“When both the Federal and Provincial governments got out of the housing game in the 1990s, we saw the housing crisis get worse over the last three decades, and now it’s reached a breaking point,” Schreiner said.

According to Schreiner, the housing crisis is not just a matter of creating more supply or streamling in the application process. He said that there needs to be an investment in social housing, more housing options, and emergency housing to get people off the street right now. Schreiner also said that current supply must also be protected by making sure tenants can’t be “reno-victed”, or forced out of housing they can afford for other reasons, and to end market speculation.

“We know that for every one new social housing unit built between 2011 and 2016, 15 homes that rent for $750 or less were lost,” said Whitzman. “The first thing that needs to be done is scaling up nonprofit housing because it’s going to be very difficult to provide housing at $750 a month if we’re using profit as a motivation.”

“We have to acknowledge that the cost per unit formulas that were in place back in 2017 or 2018 just doesn’t work anymore,” Cubitt explained. “We need 25 per cent of the project to be coming from the Province, because otherwise the capital gap just can’t be made up. If we finance all that money, somebody will loan it to you, but that loan has to be paid back, and therefore the rents have to go up.”

Speaking of rent, it’s too damn high for a lot of people in Ontario vulnerable to homelessness, which is something that today’s summit with the Ontario government didn’t seem to really address. “The Province is responsible for landlord tenant relations, and there were 6,000 Landlord Tenant Board eviction notices after COVID eviction moratorium ended in the middle of the COVID crisis,” Whitzman said.

“Another thing that the Provincial government is responsible for, and it’s connected to lack of affordable housing, is the lack of income support; $790 a month and shelter allowance is a recipe for homelessness,” she added. “Even with the current minimum wage, it would take $22 an hour for a full-time minimum wage worker to afford any kind of one or two bedroom apartment across Ontario.”

Affordability is a big issue, but when he’s trying to get new projects approved Cubitt said that some old fashioned ideas about planning also become an impediment to getting affordable housing built quickly.

“At the end of the day, where we see things get hung up is around parking, and traffic, these are the issues that seem to be the deal breakers for neighborhoods,” Cubbit explained. “When we’re 200 metres from a GO Station, we should be able to build with no parking requirement. We should be able to build in walkable downtown neighborhoods without a one-to-one parking ratio.”

“Not to sort of run roughshod over neighborhood opposition, but there needs to be some policy frameworks that says make good designs happen, but don’t get hung up or go to the Ontario Land Tribunal over some of these issues, which really are getting in the way of delivering a core human need and a basic human right.”

Schreiner said that the housing issue will not be solved with one summit or one solution, but it will be a collaborative effort between governments at all levels, plus developers and community groups to create innovating housing solutions so that everyone has a place to live.

“We can’t continue to ask people to commute two hours or longer to to be able to afford to find a place that they can call home,” Schreiner said. “The cost is that it’s making life increasingly unaffordable for people, so let’s build great communities with gentle density, with livability, connectivity, affordability and sustainability built into those communities.”

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