Provincial legislation could help county achieve affordable housing targets

BRUCE COUNTY – Ontario’s Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, contains what have been described as sweeping changes to planning in this province.

In Bruce County, the planning department has been busy trying to understand the new legislation and how it will impact planning locally.

Claire Dodds, the county’s new director of planning and development as of Sept. 12, explained that the legislation may assist the county achieve what it’s already set out to do.

“Affordable and attainable housing is already a focus. The county intends to work with our municipal partners and the province in a way that promotes good community development... as we implement changes (that come) with Bill 23,” she said.

Dodds went on to say that “there are a lot of moving elements right now” in planning; some of the changes are quite extensive.

Bruce County is working with its partners – conservation authorities, First Natiions, and municipalities to implement those changes.

She said that Bill 23, in some ways, “fast-tracks some of the work already underway in Bruce,” where the focus has been on affordable housing. One example is the Affordable Housing Tool Kit for developers (see the county’s website for more). The partnership between the human services and planning departments is aimed at giving developers interested in building affordable housing units the information they need to make the planning process easier.

The county has also promoted residential unit development in some updates to its Official Plan, she said.

On one hand are planning processes that have been developed over time, for specific reasons. On the other is a provincial government determined to get rid of anything that slows down the process of getting more homes built.

“This government is really focused on taking action,” Dodds said, explaining that the province has taken the stand that in settlement areas where there are municipal services, development is a go, right across Ontario.

Full details of Bill 23 aren’t yet known, which creates challenges for planning. And the bill has quite a wide reach, Dodds said.

Among the aspects that the county will be looking at are financial matters, including development charges. She said Bill 23 has stated “housing is not part of it any more,” which may impact any decision the county may make on implementing development charges on its own. Four Bruce County municipalities have development charges; as yet, the county does not.

The county will also be working closely with conservation authorities. Dodds said the county would like to see their role in the permits process regarding natural hazards and flooding continue.

While Bill 23 seems to have a Golden Horseshoe focus, Dodds said she’d prefer things be figured out locally, regarding farmland, for example.

However, considering the county’s existing focus on extending the supply of affordable housing, the changes to provincial legislation on planning could facilitate what’s already been started.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times