Ontario Realtors are calling on the provincial government to cut red tape and build on the successful More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019 by ending what they believe are Ontario’s “exclusionary single-family zoning rules” in high-demand areas such as Barrie.
Like many Ontario cities, Barrie is in the midst of its own housing crisis, having recently been noted as having the fourth-highest rent in the country.
“Exclusionary zoning policies are at the heart of Ontario’s housing affordability crisis in high-growth areas and it’s time the province steps in to modernize these archaic laws,” said Ontario Real Estate Association CEO Tim Hudak, who is also former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
The organization is encouraging the province to use the Planning Act to implement as-of-right zoning in Ontario’s highest-demand urban neighbourhoods, which they believe will allow for seamless and legal development of 'gentle' density — including duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes — without unnecessary and lengthy case-by-case approvals.
“You cannot grow south into Lake Ontario or north into the Greenbelt, so we need to use the space in between to create more homes and give more choice to Ontarians,” said Hudak. “High home prices are evidence enough that there are not enough homes to accommodate growing families across the province.
"But archaic rules and regulations are holding up new developments and exacerbating the problem, keeping the Canadian dream of home ownership out of reach for millennials and young families," he added.
The secret is out that Barrie is a great place to live, which has resulted in an increase in demand coming from all across the province to live here, Hudak told BarrieToday. Unfortunately, the amount of homes that have been built has fallen far behind demand, he says.
“People who grew up in Barrie likely had a dream of affording a home in the neighbourhood they grew up in. ... Now that dream is increasingly out of reach,” Hudak said. “It’s a cruel game of musical chairs. There are a lot more buyers circling fewer and fewer homes.”
That means housing supply needs to be increased, he says.
“We believe we need to speed up the approval process to cut red tape and fees that are driving the price of housing out of reach and slowing down the number of new units coming into the system," Hudak said.
While Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says he agrees with OREA’s belief that municipalities need to ensure they are creating opportunities for infill development — i.e. second suites and accessory dwellings — it’s not always the best solution to addressing the lack of affordable housing, he says.
“Five years ago, when we launched our first affordable housing strategy, that was one of the things we did right away," Lehman said. "We made it easier to create safe second suites and a lot of people did. That has created a lot of affordable units.”
The city’s experience with accessory dwelling units (ADUs), however, hasn’t been as successful in terms of creating affordable housing stock.
“The problem we have had in Barrie, and what I think OREA needs to recognize, is that yes, they certainly create additional housing, but it’s often not affordable. By definition, what we are talking about is building another whole home on a piece of property," the mayor said. "Yes, that home is almost always smaller than the home that’s already on the property… but our experience in Barrie is they’re getting built really big because you can charge more rent for it.
“I can’t blame a homeowner or investor for wanting to do that if it’s permitted, but I think we just need to be clear that that’s not really creating affordable housing supply," Lehman added. "It may be adding to the supply of housing, but it’s not adding units that are very affordable.”
As a major landowner in the province, the government also needs to look at turning under-utilized government buildings or land into housing, which Hudak says provides an incredible opportunity to get good, affordable homes on the market quickly.
“We also believe that as a result of more people working from home that there will be additional commercial space converted into next residential, commercial and affordable places to live," he said.
Tools to assist individuals to make that critical down-payment to get their foot in the door of the housing market also need to be created, Hudak added.
“Once you get a home, it’s easier to move up to a larger home than it is to get in the market in the first place, so we suggest either eliminating the land-transfer tax for first-time home buyers or at least doubling the existing rebate to $8,000. That would certainly help people in the Barrie and Simcoe (County) area keep more money in their pocket for that move," he said.
The plan includes creating more secondary suites throughout the province, which Hudak says would allow more people to find an affordable rental unit in any neighbourhood in their community. It would also help an average middle-class family pay down their mortgage faster.
“The income you can get from a secondary suite can help you pay it down 20 to 25 per cent faster,” he said. “We are calling on the province to limit (a) municipality's ability to arbitrarily deny applications for secondary suites. Obviously, they have to meet safety standards, but to arbitrarily deny their right to have a secondary suite drives the costs of rentals up and limits the ability of people to make money from their own homes.”
Barrie city council recently discussed the issue of affordable housing, including the hot topic of ADUs, voting to allow a change to its existing bylaws in order to allow them to be built on institutional properties within the city.
“That change will have a far greater impact on the housing crisis in Barrie than any change, positive or negative, to second suites or ADUs,” Lehman during the Oct. 4 council meeting. “Coming out of the decision… is a substantial change to encourage more affordable housing in a form we know is affordable and which has been built already on church properties and on institutional properties elsewhere in the city.
“This will allow institutional properties to help create the missing middle — that medium density and that gentle density that can create and have far more impact in terms of affordable housing," he added.