Roughly 50 people gathered outside a Progressive Conservative constituency office in Hamilton on Thursday to protest a new proposed housing bill several groups say will be detrimental to tenants and the environment.
Members of organizations such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) — a tenant advocacy group with chapters in the Hamilton area — Environment Hamilton and Stop Sprawl HamOnt rallied outside MPP for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Neil Lumsden's office, sharing concerns about the "More Homes Built Faster Act."
The demonstration in Stoney Creek was part of protests in other Ontario cities like London, Toronto and Ottawa.
The legislation, also known as Bill 23, is expected to be passed soon and is part of Premier Doug Ford's promise to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years.
It proposes a number of changes, including:
Asking Ontario's three dozen conservation authorities to look at the swaths of land they own to see what could be turned over for housing.
Stripping and changing the language used to evaluate a wetland's significance.
Changing a conservation authority's role in reviewing and commenting on planning applications on behalf of municipalities.
Scrapping development charges for affordable and attainable housing, as well as waiving all parkland requirements for that type of housing ("Affordable" is being defined as 80 per cent of average market rents or purchase price, while "attainable" is housing that costs no more than 30 per cent of a person's gross income).
Limit the amount a city can charge for parkland, and forcing a municipality to spend 60 per cent of its parkland reserves every year.
End exclusionary R1 zoning — the rules that allow only a detached single-family home to be built on a residential property.
Marnie Schurter, co-chair of ACORN's Hamilton Mountain chapter, told the crowd Thursday she had concerns about the timing of the bill.
"We are extremely disappointed the bill was announced right after the municipal election with the timeline to pass before new councils across the province are sworn in," Schurter said.
"The bill is focused on creating more [housing] supply but has little consideration for affordable housing and tenant protection."
Schurter said the legislation would make it harder to fight against property owners upping the cost of rent after renovations or demolitions. She said lower-income residents will be hit hardest.
A new report from the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) shows the number of renters in the city is growing at five times the rate of the number of homeowners.
Sara Mayo, a social planner with SPRC, said tenants should be able to see how much a past tenant paid for rent and should be able to appeal rent increases.
Gachi Issa, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic's Black justice co-ordinator, said she fears the bill will also impact people of colour living in the city, adding that the government's definition of affordable housing is unrealistic.
Schurter and others taped a letter to the front door of Lumsden's office, outlining some of their concerns.
Conservation authorities speak out
Conservation Halton and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) issued statements recently about the legislation.
"We think your stated outcomes are important but are concerned that your proposed legislative changes may have unintentional, negative consequences," reads a letter from Conservation Halton to Ford.
"Rather than creating the conditions for efficient housing development, these changes may jeopardize the Province's stated goals by increasing risks to life and property for Ontario residents."
NPCA said there should be a working group with conservation authorities, municipalities, developers and the agriculture sector.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority didn't issue a statement online.
Angela Coleman, the general manager of Conservation Ontario, recently said she is concerned the new bill could mean interconnected watersheds, wetlands and natural areas are dealt with in a fragmented way.
Coleman said there could be "unintended consequences" if the work done by all 36 conservation authorities in Ontario shifts to 444 municipalities of different sizes and staffing levels.
Conservation Halton's letter included recommendations such as allowing conservation authorities to keep all responsibilities related to hazards, rather than potentially transferring them to municipalities.
Another recommendation is allowing conservation authorities to continue entering into agreements with municipalities to offer advice on environmental and natural heritage matters.
When asked for a response to concerns about how the bill could impact the environment, renters and municipalities, Victoria Podbielski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, told CBC Hamilton "urgent and bold action is needed to address Ontario's housing supply crisis."
"The proposals would help cities, towns and rural communities grow with a mix of ownership and rental housing types that meet the needs of all Ontarians — from single family homes to townhomes and mid-rise apartments," she wrote.
"Our plan will build more homes near transit, unlock innovative approaches to design and construction, and get shovels in the ground faster."
Premier Doug Ford previously said the legislation will help people achieve their dream "to have a little white picket fence."
"When they put the key in the door, they know they're building equity into it, they can do the little tweaks to their house and increase the value of it. That's our goal," he said last week while previewed the bill in a Toronto Region Board of Trade event.
"We won't let the ideology and politics stand in the way of doing what's right for all Ontarians."