Premier Doug Ford’s government will on Wednesday unveil the first phase of its plan to deal with the skyrocketing cost of buying a home in Ontario, CBC News has learned.
The government will table a bill that takes aim at delays in city planning approvals slowing down home construction and driving up prices, said a senior provincial official with knowledge of the legislation.
The bill “lays the foundation” for what the official described as the government’s long-term strategy to address the root causes of Ontario’s housing problem.
While high housing prices are nothing new in the Greater Toronto Area, the cost of buying a home just about everywhere in Ontario is also soaring.
In 2021, the average sale price of homes in the province was 44 per cent higher than two years earlier, according to figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association.
The legislation is to be tabled Wednesday by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.
“The bill is really focused on making the planning process work better and smoother and faster,” said the official. The legislation also includes measures that make it easier to build affordable housing and to preserve Ontario’s existing stock of affordable housing, the official added.
The measures come after a provincially appointed task force on housing affordability urged the government to set a target of 1.5 million new homes to be built in the coming decade. That target is double the current pace of new construction.
To get more homes built more quickly, the task force recommended the province impose sweeping changes on cities. The proposals include increasing density in neighborhoods of single-family homes, spending less time spent in public consultations on housing projects and imposing deadlines for housing approvals.
Ford has blamed high house prices in part on city councils moving too slowly to approve housing developments. At a summit in January with mayors from Ontario’s 30 biggest cities, I announced a $45-million fund to streamline approvals.
The task force report did not go over well with many of the mayors and councils, particularly in suburban cities of the GTA.
That could influence the Ford government’s willingness to forge ahead with the recommendations, since seats in the 905 region are expected to be key battlegrounds in the upcoming provincial election and could ultimately sway the result.
The official said the bill reflects a balance between what the task force recommended and the feedback the government received from municipalities and the public.
Municipal councils “have been frank about needing to be involved in the design and development of the policies in the task force report,” said the official, adding that the government acknowledges it needs to work together with the municipalities to make things happen.
It’s far from certain whether the measures coming from the government Wednesday will have any short-term impact on the price of buying a home in Ontario.
The task force’s recommendations were almost entirely focused on increasing the supply of housing over the coming years.
Some real estate analysts and the opposition parties are calling on the government to address demand factors that drive up prices. Recent sales figures show that 25 per cent of Ontario home purchases are being made by investors who own more than one property.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Ford government announced it is increasing Ontario’s foreign buyers tax on residential real estate to 20 per cent and expanding its scope to apply province-wide.
Ontario’s “non-resident speculation tax” was introduced in 2017 by the then-Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne at a time when home prices were rising sharply. It had a significant impact, pushing prices downward into 2018.
The tax rate was 15 per cent on purchases by non-resident buyers of homes in the GTA and across a swath of southern Ontario stretching from Peterborough through Barrie, Waterloo and the Niagara Peninsula.
The new 20 per cent rate and its application across the province takes effect immediately.
The Opposition New Democrat and Green parties are proposing additional speculation taxes as well as a vacancy tax to try to dampen demand from investors who don’t live in the homes they buy.
“This government has had four years and they finally discovered there’s a housing crisis,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said at a news conference on housing last week in Stratford.
Horwath dismissed the task force recommendations as “pretty much one side of the coin” for their focus on the supply of market housing.