There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few weeks about getting more housing developed across Ontario to deal with the rapid increase of housing prices. The fight to get more housing has also created a reciprocal concern about creating more sprawl, which is something that the environmentally-minded population doesn’t want to see. Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner doesn’t want to see it either, and he’s recruiting help from Halton Region.
“I’m urging [Halton Regional] Council to resist that pressure from the Province,” Schreiner said in a virtual announcement on Wednesday. “Primarily because urban sprawl is not the solution to the housing crisis. It actually makes life less affordable, it threatens the farmland that feeds us, and the wetlands that clean our drinking water and protect us from flooding.”
Schreiner was joined by Halton Region and Halton Hills Councillor Jane Fogal and Regional and Milton Councillor Colin Best to talk about the challenges in achieving new A Place to Grow goals. Fogal said that current government policy has not been working for Halton with a focus on single family homes, and an inability to do proper in-person engagement on planning matters with the public during the pandemic, which, she says, has essentially let developers guide the process.
“That’s why Halton asked for a delay, we wanted to delay this until we could do in-person consultation and really get everybody to understand what we were doing,” Fogal said. “But we got a terse letter back from the Province saying, ‘No, you cannot have more time. You must do it now. And I’ll just remind you if you don’t, we have strong powers to take action if you fail to comply,’ which is a threat, but a veiled one.”
Best explained that Milton is under extreme pressure to grow, but that while that pressure has resulted in a lot of home building, Milton’s growth has actually slowed because prices rose too high, too fast, and because the city hasn’t able to keep up with the things that support growth.
“I’ve talked to our school board trustees, and both boards say they’re short three schools each, including high schools, to keep up with our present growth,” Best explained. “We have over 300 portables. We have 60 portables at one high school where we have to actually bus the teachers in because the parking lots being used up by portables.
“It’s the same with health care, and with transportation, we’re about three to five years behind at one per cent growth, and what the Province is telling us is that we have to grow at two per cent compounded annually from 600,000 people now to 1.1 million by the year 2051,” Best added. “We usually look at growth in 10-year increments, but they can’t even get the last 10 years right. In Milton we were supposed to have 162,000 people by the year 2020, we’re still waiting with the census data for 2021, but our staff are estimating 128,000 people.”
Schreiner said that the solution to the housing crisis in Ontario is to focus less on sprawl and focus more on creating a variety of housing options that will make it easier for people who want to downsize to find new homes, which will also open up availability in single family homes for people looking for those options. Schreiner also made the case for gentle density and 15-minute communities.
“We’re under intense pressure from the Provincial government, driven by the interest of putting land speculators ahead of what’s good for people communities and municipal budgets, to build those livable connectable, connected, affordable communities,” Schreiner said. “That’s why I think you’re seeing this growing movement in Hamilton and many other regions across the province to say, ‘Stop the sprawl.'”
Schreiner also addressed a report in the Guelph Mercury Tribune on Tuesday that said one-in-five residential properties sold in Guelph in 2020 were bought by people who aren’t living in that residence. Instead, those houses became a rental property, second home, or is sitting empty.
“We absolutely have to address speculation in the housing market, and that’s exactly why the Ontario Greens have called for expanding the vacancy tax across the province from 15 to 20 per cent,” Schreiner explained. “We have to, as a society, agree that housing is for people, not speculators. A home is for people and families, and we have to put in the tools that are going to take the pressure off of speculation in the marketplace.”
The Green Party of Ontario is also calling for the freezing of urban boundaries, the reversal of changes to the growth plan under the Ford government, expanding zoning options for housing choices, and the cancellation of Highway #413.