Premier Doug Ford and his government want Ontario municipalities to approve new home construction projects more quickly, claiming that delays in approvals are driving up the cost of housing.
Building more homes faster is the central topic of the housing summit that Ford will hold next month with the mayors of Ontario's 29 biggest cities and the chairs of urban regional municipalities.
In recent weeks, Ford has repeatedly cited the pace of municipal construction approvals as a barrier to making housing more affordable.
The price of buying a home is soaring pretty much everywhere in Ontario, not just the Toronto and Ottawa areas. What's far from clear is how much delays in municipal permit approvals contribute to those skyrocketing home prices.
"We've got to start cutting the permit times down big time and start getting houses built as quickly as possible," Ford said during a news conference in Orillia in response to a question about unscrupulous landlords.
The province will soon start "scoring" cities and towns on how quickly it takes to issue permits, Ford said.
"Believe it or not, folks, sometimes when [developers] apply for a permit, it can take four to six years. Where in North America does it take four to six years?".
Ford said the vast majority of cities in Ontario are slow to approve projects. "It's just like going on a carousel, they loop you around, loop you around, and guess who's paying? The people are paying, the developer's not paying."
Ford's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, is also blaming municipal bottlenecks for pushing up the price of homes.
"We know that there are delays, particularly at the municipal level, caused by duplication and red tape that are obstructing new homes from being built, which is shutting out Ontarians and their families from realizing their dream of home ownership," Clark said to a virtual meeting of the Empire Club of Canada on Thursday.
"It takes too long to get shovels in the ground as part of the development process," Clark said during the question and answer session following his speech.
How home prices around Ontario are skyrocketing
House prices have jumped by startling amounts in the past two years in smaller cities well beyond commuting distance to Ontario's major population centres, according to the latest figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association.
The Building Industry and Land Development Association, which represents developers in the Greater Toronto Area, published a consultant's report that says each month of delay in permit approvals adds $1.46 per square foot to the price of a low-rise project and $2.21 per square foot to the cost of a high-rise development.
The Ford government has focused on boosting the supply of new homes as its fundamental solution to housing affordability. To achieve that goal, the government is trying to pave the way for new construction to happen more quickly.
Speeding up development has been the government's primary justification for issuing ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) at a record rate since the COVID-19 pandemic began. MZOs are a powerful tool that allows cabinet to override all local planning and consultation rules and approve developments with the stroke of a pen.
The premier wants to review "from start to finish" the standard process for getting developments approved at the municipal level, Clark said.
"You've got to go to a council, and get the zoning issue dealt with, unless you ask for an MZO," he said.
"You're dealing with site planning, you're dealing with permitting, you're dealing with other agencies like conservation authorities, and there's a whole bunch of different players involved in ensuring that shovels are in the ground."
Clark said the review will examine "if there's anything the province can do to make it easier in the short term, and is there anything that municipalities need as resources from us in terms of regulations or legislation to help make it easier."
But the government's push to get cities to approve more home construction more quickly does not sit well with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Doug Ford is looking out for his developer buddies first and foremost," Horwath said at a news conference Friday in Stratford, when asked about the government's focus on municipal permit approvals.
Instead of "blaming municipalities," Horwath said Ford needs to find other solutions. She referred to a new report showing that investors who own more than one property are buying residential real estate in Ontario at a record pace.
"Start implementing some taxes on those wealthy investors and on those corporations that are scooping up the housing stock and pushing families out," Horwath said, suggesting speculation and vacancy taxes.
"Those things will help deter those investors and hopefully give some breathing room for Ontario families to be able to buy a home that they can call their own."
There are clear signs that housing affordability stands to be an issue in next June's election.
The polling firm that does research for the Progressive Conservative caucus recently surveyed voters about what the provincial government should do to make housing more affordable. The NDP has already unveiled a plank of its campaign platform on housing affordability.
Ford's housing summit with the city mayors is scheduled for Dec 16.
The City of Toronto "regularly works with the province to strengthen the building and planning processes, and welcomes the opportunity to engage with the province on changes that will make the process simpler and more efficient for all stakeholders," said the city's chief communications officer, Brad Ross, in a statement.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario "agrees with Minister Clark that the housing affordability crisis is an urgent matter that requires the collaboration of all orders of government," said a statement from the association's president, Parry Sound Mayor Jamie McGarvey.
"Municipalities are eager to do their part and are encouraged by the minister's commitment to providing municipalities with the supports they need, including changes to provincial regulation," said McGarvey.