Bill 23 accelerates demovictions, destroys affordable housing
Posted November 16, 2022
Canada’s housing crisis needs solutions, especially in Ontario where rents are skyrocketing. One solution being touted as a silver bullet by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government is build more, build faster. Their recently tabled Bill 23, the More Homes, Built Faster Act, promises to do just this. By dramatically constricting municipalities’ planning powers, they argue developers will find it easier and more profitable to build, build, build, advancing the Province’s goal of having an additional 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years. But for whom, exactly, will this new housing be affordable?
As Queen’s Park prepares to debate and vote on these proposals, housing experts and advocates are raising the alarm that far from making life more affordable, these changes threaten to make the housing crises worse. That is because in the name of cutting “red tape”, Bill 23 would gut many of the already limited powers municipalities have to protect and expand access to affordable housing.
Bill 23 overrides cities’ powers in more ways than one.
Just a few months ago we celebrated the passing of the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) bylaw in Toronto and subsequently in Mississauga. IZ is an important new policy tool, empowering cities to impose affordability requirements on a certain percentage of units in new housing developments . The potential of IZ was already diluted when in 2019, the Ford PC government restricted the application of the bylaw to only within 800 metres of major transit station areas. Bill 23 goes a step further. If passed, municipalities will be limited to requiring affordability for no more than 5% of the units in any housing development are affordable. Further it caps the number years they will be kept affordable to 25 years and it changes the definition of affordable housing to 80% Average Market Rent (AMR).
Toronto passed its IZ bylaw in late 2021, setting affordability requirements at up to 22% of a new development (phased in over several years). Furthermore, the City required these IZ units to be permanently affordable, a commitment made in response to years of organising by community action groups and advocates. Even the affordable rent definition that applied to these IZ units was revised, tying it to a % of fast growing market rents not income. CMHC defines housing as affordable if the rent is no more than 30% of household income.
Similarly, the city of Mississauga recently passed its own IZ bylaw. Although not as strong as Toronto, affordability requirements are set up to 10% of a new development, and like Toronto, these units were required to be permanently affordable.
If Bill 23 passes, these new IZ policies will have to be drastically weakened to conform to the Province’s extremely low bar. This would be a huge win for the Province’s private developers,ensuring that the IZ policies implemented by Ontario municipalities in the coming years were among the least productive and most highly constrained in North America. New York requires that new developments subject to IZ set aside between 25% and 30% of their floor area for permanently affordable rental housing. And Montreal now requires most new residential high rises subjected to IZ set aside between 30% and 40% of newly permitted floor area and at least half of which is transferred to social housing providers.
Not only does Bill 23 threaten the cities’ efforts to build affordable housing, it also impacts remaining affordable housing. Bill 23 talks about “standardizing” rental replacement bylaws. Rental replacement bylaws are a tool cities can use during the redevelopment of affordable housing or conversion to condos to require developers to replace the affordable units in the new development and offer them back to existing tenants at the same rent. Instead of viewing them as a key protection that helps preserve the existing affordable/low-end of market housing in major Ontario Cities, Bill 23 sees existing affordable homes as energy inefficient, aging homes and current rental replacement bylaws a hindrance to building more housing. It therefore gives the power to the province to eliminate these protections which will erode the remaining affordable housing, thereby worsening the homelessness and eviction crisis by accelerating demovictions and conversion to condos.
In Toronto alone, by the city’s own data, since the start of the city’s rental replacement policy framework, between 4,000 and 5,000 private market rental units have been secured. This is a gross underestimate as a lot of developers would have acted as a strong deterrent for the developers to demolish buildings in the first place. Furthermore, it is a no-brainer that it is substantially cheaper to protect existing affordable housing than build new housing from scratch.
Likewise, the city of Mississauga has also a Rental Protection bylaw. Ottawa and Hamilton are on their way to develop their rental replacement policy frameworks. Bill 23 will eliminate these gains in the guise of “standardization”, “energy efficiency” and “building more housing”, and destroy thousands of affordable housing units. Steve Pomeroys’ research suggests that we are losing 12 homes for each new unit built between 2011-2021. Hence, new housing supply cannot keep up with the pace of lost affordable housing, protecting existing affordable housing is key to the housing crisis. If anything, the PC government must study these facts and investigate the true cost of eliminating these protections.
Yet another tool that this Bill takes away from the cities is the revenue cities are able to generate through development charges (DCs) to meet critical infrastructure needs such as transit, sewer, libraries etc. Housing is not just about homes but the entire ecosystem. The Bill exempts developers from DCs which only means more money in the hands of the developers with no obligation whatsoever to build affordable housing.
In all, Bill 23 essentially means more money in the hands of wealthy developers, no control in the hands of the cities to protect and build affordable housing, even less tenant protections and worsened housing, eviction and homelessness crisis.
Ontario needs equitable housing solutions, those that do not come at the expense of losing existing affordable housing and low- and moderate-income renters who are in desperate need of support.