Photo: James Bombales

Ontario’s recently unveiled Housing Supply Action Plan could play a crucial role in delivering more homes to areas in need, but the devil may be in the details, an expert policy analyst suggests.

A number of components of the five-point provincial plan — which was released late last week — stood out to Diana Petramala, a senior researcher with Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development.

In particular, Petramala says the proposal to lay the groundwork to establish new community planning permit systems in municipalities across the province could be effective.

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“If done properly, they could help really encourage development,” she tells Livabl. “It’s actually the province forcing municipalities to change zoning by-laws… to allow more development along transit-oriented corridors,” Petramala adds.

While the 2005 Places to Grow Act encourages denser development around transit hubs, some municipalities have done a better job than others at meeting provincial targets, and older zoning by-laws, sometimes at odds with provincial policy, have remained.

To be effective and bring the necessary level of supply to market, the government needs to take care not to have design requirements that are too strict or height requirements that aren’t tall enough. “Again, implementation will be key,” Petramala says.

The plan outlines a proposal to “allow only modest increases in education development charges to help make housing more affordable.” Petramala says, “The education development charges have been growing at a double-digit pace, so that could help slow the growth of development charges.”

The Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) welcomed the announcement of the action plan. “It just takes too long to build new housing in the GTA,” says BILD President and CEO David Wilkes in a news release.

“This restricts supply and negatively impacts affordability. When you then layer on a disproportionate share of the cost for new infrastructure, parks, and municipal services to new homes, you now have the recipe for what we are currently experiencing,” Wilkes adds.

The province also intends to bring back Ontario Municipal Board rules. The previous Liberal government had established the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to replace the OMB in its role settling development disputes. While the LPAT was largely viewed as a win for municipalities, which gained more power in making planning decisions, Petramala doesn’t see the decision to revert to the old process as a game changer.

“I’m not sure the change in the LPAT is going to have much of an impact,” says Petramala.

Notably, the report includes a statement from Premier Doug Ford vowing not to open up the Greenbelt to development. “We are not touching the Greenbelt. We will protect it and all its beauty,” the statement, attributed to a tweet from December, reads.

Ford has sent mixed messages on the matter in the past. The emergence of a video taken in Markham in February 2018 gave rise to suspicions the as-yet-elected Ford was making backroom deals with developers to build on ecologically sensitive, protected land.

Ford then backtracked, saying the 7,200-square-kilometre Greenbelt wouldn’t be touched.

Then when the proposal for Bill 66 was revealed late last year, it included an item that would have adjusted the Planning Act, allowing municipalities to ask the province to let them approve development on Greenbelt lands.

That item was removed from the proposed legislation, which became law last month.

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