Ontario housing bill weakens Ottawa's zoning plan for affordable units

The advocacy group ACORN left flyers on vehicles on Nov. 3, 2022, calling on the Ontario government to abandon its More Homes Built Faster Act. The group says the housing it will create won't be affordable for the people who need it. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
The advocacy group ACORN left flyers on vehicles on Nov. 3, 2022, calling on the Ontario government to abandon its More Homes Built Faster Act. The group says the housing it will create won't be affordable for the people who need it. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

The City of Ottawa's long-awaited plan to make developers include some affordable housing units in their buildings could be diluted by a controversial new housing bill at Queen's Park, according to housing advocates and city officials.

City staff are in the midst of crafting a bylaw based on goals set by city council just this past June, after public debate. Now, the Ford government's proposed More Homes Built Faster Act would standardize such laws to require fewer units, using a more lenient definition of "affordable," and guaranteed for fewer years than Ottawa had planned.

Ottawa has been intending to create an "inclusionary zoning" bylaw since the former Ontario Liberal government created that new power several years ago.

Coun. Glen Gower, who co-chairs the planning committee, said Ottawa wants to require 10 per cent of new condo units near transit stations be offered at prices below market rates, guaranteed for 99 years. City staff were unsure if the same could be required of new rental buildings, but councillors asked them to try.

Instead, the Ford government would limit affordable units — or floor space — to five per cent of new condo and rental buildings, guaranteed for 25 years, which Gower says Ottawa heard should be the "bare minimum."

"If it's just five units there, and seven units here, that's really not making much of a dent in our affordability crisis," he said.

Advocacy group rallies

Everyone has a role to play in dealing with the thousands of people needing a home they can afford, Gower said, especially those who have seen a spike in land values because of Ottawa's investment in new light rail lines.

"Those landowners have already realized a profit or a benefit to their own bottom line," he said. "We just want to make sure that, close to transit stations, there are affordable units alongside market rate units."

An advocacy group that fought for even higher proportions of affordable units in new buildings is dismayed by the bill, and wants it scrapped. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in Ottawa held a rally outside the offices of PC MPP Lisa Macleod Thursday, but no one from her office met the group.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

"Doug Ford has decided that the way we get out of this housing crisis is building houses. Unfortunately, he has given all these incentives to the developers," said Norma Jean Quibell, co-chair of one of the group's local chapters.

"Yeah, we'll get more houses, but they won't be affordable to anyone."

Quibell said she's been trying to find an apartment for her family in Barrhaven, near her new job, but rents are all above $2,100.

"We had gotten a big victory with city council making those pledges," she said of Ottawa's debate in June. "Now it's just ripped all the way from us."

No consultation hearings in Ottawa

CBC News asked the office of the minister of municipal affairs and housing why the government had set inclusionary zoning criteria more conservatively than Ottawa planned, given housing affordability was its stated aim.

An emailed statement said only that the government was "proposing to make inclusionary zoning rules more consistent"  as part of its effort to streamline municipal planning approvals.

It pointed to how such units would be exempt from development charges, parkland dedication fees and community benefits charges.

Gower said the City of Ottawa is discovering new implications in the housing bill every day, even as it's still trying to roll out changes from the last Ontario housing bill in the spring.

The latest wrinkle sees Ottawa left off the list of locations that will host public hearings about the bill, which is moving quickly through Queen's Park. The provincial standing committee on heritage, infrastructure and cultural policy announced dates only in Markham, Brampton and Toronto.

Gower said the city wants to be able to weigh in on the important changes without travelling to Toronto, and has officially asked that an Ottawa session be added.