$25.5 million in PC funding for Brampton housing infrastructure falls far short of need

On February 23, Premier Doug Ford was in Brampton handing over a $25.5 million cheque to support the housing construction his PC government has imposed on the municipality through Bill 23.

The funding follows a similar announcement in the City of Toronto and is the first indication of how Ford plans to help municipalities build the necessary infrastructure to support the accelerated housing development his PC government has mandated in Ontario—looking to construct 1.5 million homes by 2031. In Brampton, the investment falls significantly short of what is needed to actually help the City construct the 113,000 new homes by 2031—its share of the provincial target.

Since its inception in late 2022, municipalities have criticized Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act as a ticking time bomb that could blow an irreparable hole in the finances of cities and towns across Ontario.

The Region of Peel warned that without provincial assistance, the more than $20 billion needed to finance the infrastructure to support these new housing units would fall onto taxpayers. Brampton also criticized the Bill when it was introduced for the negative financial implications it could have on the City. The impacts could be particularly harmful for Brampton’s bottom line after years of budgets under Mayor Patrick Brown that have cut things to the bone to achieve repeated tax freezes.

A November 2022 staff report predicted the City of Brampton could face a revenue gap of anywhere between $260 million and $800 million as a result of changes to development charges and other fees historically paid for by developers to avoid putting the cost of growth onto the taxpayer. The lost money would be the “equivalent revenue of a property tax increase of approximately 80 [percent],” the report states.

Further, the report notes meeting a target of 113,000 new housing units by 2031 would create a need for an additional $2 billion to construct necessary infrastructure over the next 10 years, or about $200 million annually.

Ford said Brampton’s new funding can be used toward infrastructure projects “that lay the groundwork for more housing and community development.”

“We are very much determined to hit our housing goal that was established by the province, 113,000 new residential units over the next 10 years, and we don’t wanna just sign a pledge, we want to hit that and exceed it,” Brown said at the press conference Friday. Brown did not address his concerns with the bill, despite him and his fellow councillors denouncing it for its troubling financial implications, calling it a “train wreck” for the City.

According to Brown, the city approved 12,432 new housing units in 2023, saying it is “making huge strides.” Despite this, according to data from the Region of Peel, there were only 2,903 housing starts in the City of Brampton last year. According to the provincial housing starts tracker, a website set up by the PCs to track municipal progress on Bill 23 targets, Brampton had 7,028 housing starts in 2023, 85 percent of its provincial target of 8,287. These housing starts will need to be significantly accelerated in the years ahead to reach the 113,000 assigned to Brampton. It’s unclear why there is a vast discrepancy between numbers at the Region of Peel and provincial data.

The City of Mississauga has criticized the provincial government after being ineligible for funding under the Building Faster Fund as, according to the Province, it was not on track to meet its housing starts target. The City argues housing starts are outside a municipality’s control and grants under the Building Faster Fund should take into account other metrics that indicate a municipality is on track to reach its goals, something the City of Mississauga has consistently maintained.

“As a City, we understand the urgency of this crisis and are using all of the tools we have to prioritize getting more homes built,” Acting Mississauga Mayor, Joe Horneck stated in a press release. “We will continue to address these important issues with the industry experts on our Housing Panel to find innovative solutions that will help us continue to deliver on our housing commitments.”

Neither Ford nor Brown addressed how this $25.5 million investment falls incredibly short of Brampton’s need. Even if the City receives the same amount annually between now and 2031—amounting to $178.5 million over the next 7 years—it would not even reach the low end of cost impacts ($260 million) identified by the City of Brampton last year as a result of lost revenue due to Bill 23. It falls astronomically short of the $2 billion identified as infrastructure support for these 113,000 homes. In fact, there isn’t even enough funding in the 3-year, $1.2 billion Building Faster Fund to cover that gap.

Grants through the Building Faster Fund are provided to municipalities that achieve a minimum of 80 percent of their annual housing target. For those that exceed their mandate, increased funding is provided. The three-year program is meant to “encourage” municipalities to meet its mandated goals, yet it is unclear how the amount awarded to Brampton this time around will support the rapidly growing city with crucial infrastructure it needs to support the forced growth, especially when it already struggles to properly service its existing population.

Though Brampton appears to be on track to meet its assigned housing target, a policy report from the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) reveals that province-wide numbers last year did not put Ontario on track to meet its own goals.

Email: hafsa.ahmed@thepointer.com

Twitter: @_hafsaahmed

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Hafsa Ahmed, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer