Photo: James Bombales

Last week, the Ontario government introduced Bill 66, the “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act.” While the bill has wide ranging implications, one has caught the eye of the housing industry — the ability for municipalities to develop the Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt, a 7,200 square-kilometre area in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) on the perimeter of Lake Ontario, has been protected from urban development since 2005. If passed, Bill 66 would allow municipalities to enact “open for business” bylaws, where they could approve factories and business parks on Greenbelt land.
It’s a move that — while it doesn’t directly affect residential housing construction — was hailed by industry associations when was announced.

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“Today, Ontario Realtors are pleased to see the Doug Ford government taking an important first step to improve and streamline our province’s land use planning approvals process, a move that will bring homes to market faster,” wrote Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, in a statement released last week.

In the event that residential construction is allowed on the Greenbelt — something Ford alluded to in his campaign for Premier earlier this year, before quickly walking the statement back — would it help create much needed housing supply for the tight Ontario market? Not according to Diana Petramala, a senior researcher with the Ryerson Centre for Urban Research and Land Development.

“I don’t think developing the Greenbelt is the solution to [the housing affordability issues] in the [Greater Toronto Area],” Petramala told Livabl in interview earlier this year.

She points to a rapidly increasing population and a relatively long development timeline as just one potential issue with the plan – it would take over a decade to create new housing on the Greenbelt, and the GTA population is growing every year.

Other potential solutions to the issue include the prioritization of mid-density housing development within existing low-rise neighbourhoods, which Petramala believes would be a faster solution to the current lack of supply.

“Adjusting the zoning rules in low-rise neighbourhoods is a better first step for tackling this problem,” she says.

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