Emergency Council Meeting to Discuss Impact of Bill 23

You may have heard about the Government of Ontario’s Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act. Literally introduced the day after the October 24 municipal election, the legislation proposes to change significant portions of municipal planning policy to, in theory, increase the development of housing units. With the first round of feedback about the legislation coming due, the new Guelph city council will assemble to have their say.

A new meeting has been added to the council calendar for Tuesday November 22, and there’s only one thing on the agenda: Bill 109, More Homes for Everyone Act Implementation and Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act Consultation. The meeting agenda is now posted to the City of Guelph’s council calendar, and while there’s no formal staff report or recommendation attached, members of the public are being invited to delegate or offer feedback.

NOTE #1: Delegates will be able to appear at this meeting via telephone, but you do have to register with the clerks office before 10 am on Friday November 18. You can also submit written delegations and correspondences for agenda items.

NOTE #2: Because of ongoing renovations to the council chambers, this meeting will only be live-streamed on the City of Guelph’s website here.

NOTE #3: This meeting begins at the special time of 10 am.

The staff report will be available with the revised council agenda this coming Friday.

Bill 23, which was introduced on October 25, is sweeping legislation that would re-write several pieces of legislation to allow more as-of-right zoning, create a definition for affordable housing, limit the amount of development and community benefit charges, reduce site plan timing, reduce the influence of conservation authorities, and allow the Province to override some municipal planning decisions.

While speaking to Open Sources Guelph last week, Mayor Cam Guthrie explained that when presenting the reaction to Bill 23 for the Ontario Big City Mayors group, he hopes that the government hears that these 29 municipal heads have some “real concerns” about the bill.

“We hope that maybe there will be some amendments, some changes before it actually becomes legislation. I find that to try and completely write the whole thing off right now is a little bit early, because we’ve got to find out what the actual regulations and legislation is going to be,” Guthrie said.

“I’m hoping that there will be some amendments for the concerns that we have, and maybe that we can get answers to our question a bit more,” Guthrie added. “Am I painted into a corner? I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it that way. Maybe the painting has begun, but I just don’t know if I’ve been painted into the corner yet.”

Province-wide it seems like there’s little appetite for the changes proposed in Bill 23, and that includes the advocacy group that networks and advocates for 444 municipalities around Ontario, the Associations of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

“While AMO would like to support the province’s housing objectives, it cannot support changes that largely place the burden of carrying the costs associated with development onto municipalities,” reads their webpage on Bill 23. “AMO believes that the proposed changes may contradict the goal of building more housing in the long-term as it merely shifts the financial burden of growth-related infrastructure onto existing taxpayers.”

In a letter to Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, AMO president Colin Best said that if the Ontario government really wanted to help municipalities accelerate housing and fight the housing crisis, they would get out their cheque book.

“As you are aware, in the 1990s a previous government transferred financial responsibility for social housing to municipalities in order to reduce the provincial budget deficit,” Best said. “This is a problem unique to Ontario that, according to 2019 provincial data, results in municipalities making net expenditures of $1.5 billion a year in what should be a provincial fiscal responsibility.”

“AMO is also eager to engage the government on the other factors that contribute to homelessness including mental health and addictions and related policies in the provincial healthcare, justice and child welfare systems,” he added. “The crisis in homelessness calls for broad, bilateral discussions and a whole of government commitment.”

Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager for Environmental Defence said in his analysis that Bill 23 offers “only tepid measures to enable more badly needed home construction in existing cities, while diving deep into dangerous attacks on wetland habitat, woodlands and other conservation lands and encouraging even more of the expensive rural sprawl that caused Ontario’s housing crisis.”

“The most glaring feature of Bill 23 and its associated policy proposals is an attack on Conservation Authorities, woodlands and provincially significant wetlands that aims to enable destruction of wetland habitats and conservation lands,” Pothen added.

In a recent post, Dr. Dawn Parker, a professor in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo, said that the primary purpose of the legislation, to create 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years, may not be feasible.

“It may not increase housing supply. With a cascade of current construction project cancellations due to rising construction costs and interest rates, increasing financing costs, and decreased demand for units from investors, small increases to development profitability may have minimal impact on housing supply,” Parker said.

The first round of public consultations will close on November 24.

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