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LETTER: Advocacy group warns of consequences of Bill 23

Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness calls on premier to 'put a hold on this misguided legislation'
2022-05-17 typing pexels-donatello-trisolino-1375261
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BradfordToday welcomes letters to the editor at natasha@bradfordtoday.ca. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following is a letter to the editor and an open letter to Premier Doug Ford.
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Dear Premier Ford,

Simcoe County and all of Ontario are experiencing an unprecedented affordable housing crisis, which requires all levels of government and all involved stakeholders to take concerted and effective action to address the issue.

In Simcoe County, we have seen affordable housing stock plummet, as some landlords sell their properties to take advantage of the current record high home sale prices, while other landlords use evictions to force out long-term tenants who are paying comparably below-market rents because of rent control laws so that they can charge significantly increased rent to new tenants. Landlords are able to wrongfully evict tenants by utilizing the same means as legitimate evictions (i.e., evicting a tenant so the owner or an immediate family member can move in, evicting a tenant to perform minor renovations) or by just telling the tenant that they are being evicted and counting on the fact that most tenants aren’t aware of their rights under the Residential Tenancies Act, and that the tenant will comply rather than contest the eviction. Intensifying this situation has been the slashing of the number of adjudicators working for the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a serious backlog of complaints and eviction requests at the LTB by both landlords and tenants.

In response to this crisis, the Government of Ontario has introduced Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, a bill developed after the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force released its report earlier this year, a report whose recommendations were strongly influenced by industry leaders, including real estate developers and bank executives, without direct and meaningful consultation with community groups or those directly affected by the affordable housing crisis. While we are grateful to see the Government of Ontario take action to address the affordable housing crisis, too many of the measures proposed in this bill will not ease the affordable housing crisis, some will in fact exacerbate the problem, and others will jeopardize the health and well-being of Ontarians, our communities, and our environment.

The most glaring problem with Bill 23 is the definition of “affordable housing” used and encoded in the bill. Under the language of Bill 23, a rental unit is considered affordable if “rent is no greater than 80 per cent of the average market rent;” however, as we all know, with current market rents so disconnected from incomes, even a rental at 80 per cent of market rent can be out of reach for most households experiencing poverty or homelessness.

In 2021, the average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in south Simcoe was $1,400, as reported by CONTACT Community Services from their weekly collection of public rental listings. By this reasoning, an average affordable one-bedroom apartment in south Simcoe would be $1,120; however, for residents receiving Ontario Disability Support Program assistance, the maximum allowable rent for a single person is just $522, and for Ontario Works, it’s only $390. This disconnect between the real cost of rent and the real income that working families and those on assistance receive has greatly contributed to the surge in evictions and homelessness that we are seeing throughout Ontario, but especially in rural and smaller urban centres where the stock of rental housing has always been more limited.

Bill 23 will allow landlords who want to renovate their units to permanently evict the tenant, with no recourse for the tenant. This is a stark change from the current law, which allows tenants in units being renovated a right to return to the same or a comparable unit when the renovations are complete, at the same or a reasonably similar rent. This change will see more low-income and fixed-income tenants evicted from the homes they currently live in to become homeless due to the lack of alternative affordable housing options available on the market for them to move into. Currently, many communities in Simcoe County have rental vacancy rates that are extremely low, and in some of our communities, the vacancy rate has actually been at zero per cent for four or more years, according to the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation.

Bill 23 also transfers the responsibility for conducting environmental impact assessments from the provincial government to the developer and “certain orders and approvals under the Environmental Assessment Act are terminated, and the projects are exempted from the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993.” While this may save time, self-regulation by industries, such as land developers, has always been something that governments and residents should be hesitant to adopt, as it allows for abuse, especially when there is a lack of oversight and consequences for intentional or accidental errors and omissions. This change risks development of homes on sensitive ecological lands, unmonitored and serious negative environmental impacts on our communities that could be avoided, which will impact all residents of Simcoe County and Ontario.

Bill 23 fails to provide targeted incentives that encourage developers to build multi-unit housing, such as low-rise and high-rise apartment buildings, and smaller, less costly single-family homes. Because the incentives provided to developers are so broad, there are few incentives to specifically build less profitable smaller homes and multi-unit buildings that will have a greater impact on the affordable housing crisis, as opposed to large, single-family homes whereby the developers can make a greater return on investment. The government should enact incentives that make it as or more profitable for developers to build small and multi-unit homes as it is for them to build large single-family homes that are financially out of reach for the vast majority of Ontarians.

Finally, Bill 23 also requires municipalities to waive development fees for “affordable housing” development under the government’s new definition of affordable housing, which, as we’ve outlined, is far from affordable. These fees are used to pay for infrastructure development in these communities (such as sewers, water works, and sidewalks), and the waiving of these fees from developers simply means that the costs will be passed on to local governments and taxpayers, while no truly affordable housing is developed as a result.

While we appreciate the efforts that governments at all levels are taking to address the affordable housing crisis, these kinds of measures taken by the Government of Ontario do not protect an individual’s right to safe, adequate and affordable housing and treat housing as a commodity where huge profits can be generated by real estate developers and financial institutions with the least possible risk. Studies have shown that such a financialization of housing approach will have minimal impact on the affordable housing crisis we are experiencing in our communities, because it is not designed to address the crisis and root cause of the issue. Any positive impact on the affordable housing crisis as a result of Bill 23 would be purely incidental and unintentional, and not to the benefit of those most in need of safe, affordable, adequate housing.

We strongly encourage the Government of Ontario to put a hold on this misguided legislation, go back to the drafting board, consult with those communities, organizations and individuals working to address this crisis and develop a more targeted solution that will truly address the affordable housing crisis and the residents of Ontario who are struggling because of it. We are counting on you to represent the best interests of all Ontarians, especially those who are struggling during these difficult and uncertain times.

Sincerely,

Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness

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