Window to restore relationship with municipalities 'is closing', say Big City Mayors

Municipalities have said Bill 23 will leave them paying for a reduction in developer fees, while conservation authorities have said the law weakens their role as managers of the land. (David Donnelly/CBC - image credit)
Municipalities have said Bill 23 will leave them paying for a reduction in developer fees, while conservation authorities have said the law weakens their role as managers of the land. (David Donnelly/CBC - image credit)

In a public letter addressed to the chair of Ontario's Big City Mayors (OBCM) Cam Guthrie, the Ford government says it will be launching a third-party audit of select municipalities across the province.

This announcement follows concerns raised over Bill 23, which will freeze, reduce and exempt certain development fees.

Municipalities have said that the legislation will leave them paying for a reduction in developer fees, while conservation authorities have said the law weakens their role as managers of the land.

When asked, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing did not provide CBC News with a list of the select municipalities it intends to audit for a "factual understanding of their finances, including their reserve funds and development charge administration".

There's an opportunity here for the relationship to be restored, but the window on that is closing. - Cam Guthrie, chair of Ontario's Big City Mayors

Guthrie, who is also the mayor of Guelph, is now asking how the provincial government plans to ensure that savings will be passed down from the developer on to the homebuyer, since the value of a home is dictated by the housing market and not building costs.

"There's nothing here that's talked about in regards to making sure the end consumer is actually reaping the benefits of waved development charges," he said, in response to the provincial government's letter. "If the fees are waived for the first home buyer, as an example, what's to stop that home buyer from selling the home a year later?"

He said there is need for further clarification and positive consultation between the province and municipalities.

"There's an opportunity here for the relationship to be restored, but the window on that is closing," Guthrie said.

Guthrie said the Ontario government, in addition to making a deal with municipal governments, needs to also hold developers accountable for providing affordable housing options in order to effectively ensure there will be affordable housing options in the long-term.

Impact on local municipalities

In Kitchener, Garett Stevenson, the interim director of planning for the city, said the bill will be costly for taxpayers, who will be on the hook for about $40-million in expenses over the next ten years.

In the meantime, he said the city also wants to ensure that environmental considerations are still  part of the planning process by working closely with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) and the regional government.

Rod Regier, the Region of Waterloo's commissioner of planning, development and legislative services worries that the bill may impact the region's ability to ensure protections of various systems including groundwater resources and transit infrastructure.

When it comes to reaching the province's housing goals, he said there are many additional considerations.

"Interest rates have increased, the market has changed pretty fundamentally in the last six months or so, and there are sounding questions about labour availability and supply chains and that sort of thing," Regier said.

In a statement, the City of Cambridge said the full effect of the bill still needs to be reviewed, however, "in the absence of the development fees there will be delayed projects and other funding sources used."

The City of Waterloo has also said it's too early to determine the tax effects of the housing bill.