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3000 Ontario’s Bill 23 will make the housing crisis worse - ACORN Canada Ontario’s Bill 23 will make the housing crisis worse

Posted November 18, 2022

The following statement has been authored and released by Toronto ACORN, Parkdale People’s Economy, Justice for Queen and Close & Progress Toronto.

Canada’s housing crisis needs solutions, especially in Ontario where rents are skyrocketing. One solution being touted as a silver bullet by Ontario’s PC government is build more, build faster. Their recent Bill 23, More Homes, Built Faster Act, promises just this. By dramatically constricting municipalities’ planning powers, they argue developers will find it easier and more profitable to build-build-build, advancing their goal of an additional 1.5 million homes over 10 years. But for whom will this new housing be affordable?

Housing experts and advocates are raising the alarm that far from making life more affordable, these changes threaten to make the housing crisis worse. In the name of cutting “red tape,” Bill 23 would gut many of the limited powers municipalities have to protect and expand access to affordable housing.

Recently, we celebrated the passing of the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) bylaw in Toronto. IZ is an important policy tool, empowering cities to impose affordability requirements on a percentage of units in new housing developments (referred to as set aside rates). The potential of IZ was already diluted when, in 2019, the Ford government restricted the bylaw to only major transit station areas.

Bill 23 goes further, if passed, limiting municipalities to requiring affordability to a maximum five per cent of units in any housing development. It caps the number of years they will be kept affordable to 25 and it changes the definition of affordable to 80 per cent average market rent.

Toronto passed its IZ bylaw, setting affordability requirements phased in up to 22 per cent of a new development and permanently affordable. Even the affordable rent definition that applied to these IZ units was revised, tying it to income and not a percentage of fast-growing market rents.

If Bill 23 passes, these new IZ policies will be drastically weakened. This would be a huge win for the province’s private developers, ensuring that Ontario IZ policies are among the least productive in North America. New York IZ set asides are between 25 and 30 per cent for permanently affordable rental housing. Montreal IZ policy has a set aside between 30 and 40 per cent.

Bill 23 also threatens the remaining affordable housing by talking about “standardizing” rental replacement bylaws. Rental replacement bylaws are a tool cities can use during the redevelopment of affordable housing to condos to require developers to replace the affordable units 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, 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.

Toronto alone has secured 4,000-5,000 private market rental units with the city’s rental replacement policy framework. This is a gross underestimate as it also acts as a strong deterrent for the developers to demolish buildings in the first place. Furthermore, it is substantially cheaper to protect existing affordable housing than build new housing from scratch.

Mississauga also has a Rental Protection bylaw. Ottawa and Hamilton are developing rental replacement frameworks. Bill 23 will eliminate these gains in the guise of “energy efficiency” and “building more housing” and destroy thousands of affordable housing units. Steve Pomeroys’ research suggests we lose 12 homes for each new unit built between 2011-2021. Protecting existing affordable housing is key to the housing crisis. The government must investigate the true cost of eliminating these protections.

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. 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.