Written by
Penelope Graham

Now that Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are firmly in power for the next four years, housing advocacy groups across the province expect to see action. In particular, it’s time for the key recommendations made earlier this year by the province’s own housing committee.

“Now that they have a mandate, they should implement the recommendations of the Housing Affordability Task Force,” Bilal Akhtar, volunteer member of housing advocacy group More Neighbors Toronto, told STOREYS.

“The ones we would push the most are getting rid of exclusionary zoning and allowing four units and four stories on each residential lot, as of right. That would be by far our biggest goal. That’s not to say they shouldn’t prioritize things like a public builder or more funding for affordable housing, and transit-oriented development would also be a secondary part of getting rid of the zoning of the city. exclusion,” he says.

READ: As Ontario PCs win second term, time to build, says industry

The MNTO had expressed deep disappointment when such measures were excluded from the province’s budget in April. However, the organization, which champions the creation of supply in the GTA, has been a strong supporter of PCs because of their willingness to take bold action on their housing vision. Akhtar points to similar proposals released by the NDP and Liberals during the election campaign regarding an end to exclusionary zoning (the Liberals specifically said they would allow three units and two stories on previously zoned single-family lots).

“We criticized this as being too middle-of-the-road and not wanting to upset NIMBYism and municipalities, but both sides threw endless platitudes about working with municipalities, which shows a lack of understanding of the seriousness and of the urgency of the problem and also, a lack of political will to challenge the opposition,” he said. “So we’re hoping that PCs with their strong mandate can, at the very least, end exclusionary zoning, even if there’s opposition from municipalities, because there will be opposition, and they have to be prepared to challenge that.”

Affordable housing measures left behind

Other key housing issues that remain unclear in terms of PC priorities are affordable housing and tenant protection – terms that have been completely left out of their communications, from HATF recommendations to the provincial budget to their housing policy platform.

“They made few commitments to affordable housing in their election press releases or media statements, so it’s fair to say we don’t know what to expect,” says Akhtar. “But we would like them to create another ‘affordable housing task force’ – not a housing affordability task force – and come up with recommendations consistent with what all the other parties have come up with, like the construction of 150,000 subsidized affordable housing units. I know they have committed to building units totaling $1.5 million, but committing to affordable housing would go a long way in acknowledging that chronic homelessness must end. It’s something that all the other parties have agreed to.

Finally, he says, the organization wants to see the establishment of a public builder, so that the creation of new housing is no longer done at the discretion of investors motivated by profit. “We don’t want housing supply to be dictated by the ebb and flow of demand from housing investors, because that can come and go, and right now it could go a bit. We want a public builder to be able to guarantee a basic supply of housing at all times. This is what the NDP and the Liberals are committed to, and they can do it in the future,” adds Akhtar.

Douglas Kwan, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) is encouraged by PC’s victory, as the organization has worked closely with them on tenant issues over the past four years, including on the HATF.

What needs to be addressed urgently, he says, is stemming the loss of existing affordable housing stock.

“I think there’s been a lot of talk from all sides of the spectrum and from everyone, landlords and renters, that there’s a real affordable housing crisis out there,” he says. “And one of the things that we hope this new government will see is that we are losing more affordable units than we are creating, even with the best projected estimates. There is no way to catch up with all that is lost.

That only way to solve the problem, he says, is some measure of rent control; During its first term, the Ford government reversed sweeping rent and vacancy control measures put in place by the former provincial Liberal leadership, meaning any unit created after November 2018 can have their rents increased to the beyond the guideline imposed by the province during new leases or renewals. Once a unit’s rent starts to climb beyond the average Ontarian’s affordability, it’s usually lost forever as affordable stock, he says.

“We hope the government will re-examine this policy, to see if it still makes sense, as the original idea behind this exemption was to stimulate private development of purpose-built rentals,” he says. “And what we’ve seen is some rentals or purpose-built apartment buildings are continuing, but they’re aimed more at the luxury segment, calling for rent of $2,000 a month or more. But it’s not what many people consider affordable.

“So that’s what we’re hoping to see over the next four years from this government, because without addressing the loss of our affordable housing, we can’t really address the affordable housing issue. It’s like filling a tub when the hole is almost the size of the tub itself.

Written by
Penelope Graham

Penelope Graham is the editor of STOREYS. She has over a decade of experience in real estate, mortgages and personal finance. His commentary on the housing market is featured frequently in national and local media, including BNN Bloomberg, CBC, The Toronto Star, National Post and The Globe and Mail.

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