Ford housing bill a 'devastating attack' on renters: NDP

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell, centre, speaks at news conference at Queen's Park Wednesday morning with housing analyst Melissa Goldstein, left, and renter Patricia Johnston. Bell says the province's new housing bill will curb municipal powers to protect tenants from being evicted by developers converting rental apartments to condos.  (CBC - image credit)
NDP housing critic Jessica Bell, centre, speaks at news conference at Queen's Park Wednesday morning with housing analyst Melissa Goldstein, left, and renter Patricia Johnston. Bell says the province's new housing bill will curb municipal powers to protect tenants from being evicted by developers converting rental apartments to condos. (CBC - image credit)

Ontario's official opposition is asking the province to scrap part of its new housing plan because, the NDP says, it will weaken tenant protections and further deplete the stock of affordable rental properties.

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell said a proposal in Ontario's new housing plan would allow the province to curb the powers of municipal rental replacement bylaws. Those rules protect tenants in the event of the demolition of their rental unit. The bylaws, which exist in Toronto and Mississauga, mean developers must offer tenants financial assistance and the right to return to a replacement unit in the new building.

"[Premier] Doug Ford wants to make it easier for developers to toss tenants out by the hundreds and turn these affordable purpose built rentals into luxury condos," Bell said. "The consequences of [the bill] are potentially disastrous for housing affordability."

Last week, Ford announced his government's new plan to get new homes built across Ontario. He has set ambitious targets for municipalities to ensure that the province achieves its overall goal of building 1.5 million new homes in a decade.

The legislation has not yet been passed and contains sweeping changes to development rules across Ontario to, in part, incentivize builders. But the bill has also raised concerns from municipal leaders, Conservation Authorities and tenant advocacy groups.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said part of the solution to the province's housing crisis is to ensure more rental units are built.

"While the goal of a municipality's bylaw may be to preserve affordable rents and protect tenants, it may be limiting the supply of rental units and leading to deteriorating housing stock," Chris Poulos said in a statement.

"We will be launching consultations to determine how to protect our supply of rental housing stock while promoting the building of more desperately needed rental housing," he added.

Opposition calls for revised plan

Bell called the proposed changes around rental replacement bylaws a "devastating attack on renters" and said it will damage Ontario's already dwindling stock of affordable housing. The province should revise the entire plan, she said.

"We are calling on the Ontario government to develop a comprehensive housing plan to make housing affordable in Ontario," Bell said. "This plan must include building more homes, building more supportive homes and affordable housing homes, clamping down on investor-led speculation and bringing in better protections for renters."

Patricia Johnston, who also spoke at the press conference, lives in a Toronto apartment complex that is currently the subject of re-development negotiations between the city and a builder. She's lived in the building for 17 years and said the government proposal could leave her homeless.

"The building I'm in contains a lot of seniors who are on fixed incomes, they're worried they have nowhere to go," she said. "And now we're told that we're not going to be eligible for a compensation package, or we won't be eligible to return when the new building is put up. I can't see where this bill represents or helps affordable housing."

Housing policy analyst Melissa Goldstein said Toronto's rental replacement bylaw prevents these situations and is regarded as the best in the province. It requires anyone proposing to demolish six or more housing units where at least one is a rental unit to obtain city approval. The developer must offer tenants financial assistance and the right to return to a replacement unit at around the same rent.

The rules have preserved more than 900 rental units in Toronto this year, she said.

"Getting rid of these regulations won't fix our housing crisis," she said. "It will make it much much worse, and the only winners would be the developers who will get to stuff their pockets with even more money."