Tim Hudak
Tim Hudak

The Ontario Real Estate Association is calling for an end to exclusionary single-family zoning rules in high-density areas and near transit and subway stations in cities across Ontario to combat a housing crisis that is keeping home ownership out of the hands of many.

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“We’ve moved from an affordability challenge in Ontario to an affordability crisis,” says OREA CEO Tim Hudak. “The Canadian dream of home ownership is slipping out of reach and it’s time to do something about it.”

The association says it makes no sense that it is illegal in many urban neighbourhoods of Ontario to convert a single-family home into a townhome, duplex, triplex or fourplex without a zoning bylaw change, while it’s relatively easy to convert an outdated wartime bungalow into a monster four-storey home for one wealthy family.

However, if a property owner wanted to take that same house and create affordable homes for up to four families, “expensive process, delays and NIMBY (not in my backyard) forces stop that in its tracks,” says Hudak.

“You have to go through an entire zoning process, which could take up to a year or more (and) cost tens of thousands of dollars in fees, let alone legal costs. Many forces use delaying tactics to empty the wallets of those that want to develop these homes, so they don’t even bother in the first place. That means that affordable homes are even more scarce in urban areas.”

Hudak says outdated bylaws from the 1960s and 1970s “conspire to eliminate affordable housing options in our large cities and it’s time to relegate them to the ash heap of real estate history.”

OREA is calling on the province to use the Planning Act to implement as-of-right zoning in highest-demand urban neighbourhoods, which would allow for the seamless and legal development of gentle density, without lengthy case-by-case approvals.

“This is a powerful key that will unlock home ownership for so many first-time homebuyers. Once you get on the first rung of the ladder and get your first home, it’s easier to move up later, and free up that single-family home for another set of first-time buyers.”

Hudak says a broad-based approach that increases supply will increase affordability for people struggling to get into the housing market in major urban areas. “Right now, many of our big cities are either tall or sprawl – monster skyscrapers or single-family homes. This would create the necessary missing element that is so appealing to first-time homebuyers or empty nesters.”

He notes municipalities could make zoning changes on their own or the province of Ontario could use a carrot approach to make changes happen. As part of the approach, when the province makes infrastructure decisions on roads, transit, water or sewer, it should put at the top of the list municipalities that have paved the way for affordable homes.

About 100,000 new homes are required to meet growing the demand for housing in Ontario. Ending the exclusionary zoning policy would have the biggest effect in closing the gap in urban areas, he says.

Millennials now in the housing market or about to enter it represent the largest demographic in Canadian history, surpassing the baby boomers because of immigration, he says.

OREA’s recommendations to implement as-of-right zoning is part of its plan, launched in late September, to increase housing affordability.

Hudak says much of the last federal election campaign focused on housing affordability and the issue will be even more important in the Ontario election, to be held on or before June 2, 2022. The OREA campaign aims to set the groundwork for next spring’s election campaign, says the former Ontario PC party leader, noting OREA has arranged meetings with more than 80 MPPs.

According to research by Abacus Data for OREA, 78 per cent of Ontarians support minimum zoning in urban areas to encourage more homes.

OREA research has also found almost half of Ontarians 45 years and younger have actively looked to other provinces to live simply because they could not afford a home in Ontario.

The prospect of Ontarians leaving for provinces like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia “really catches the eyes of MPPs,” he says. “This is a huge concern because it’s the next generation of entrepreneurs, job creators who will be looking to other provinces. If that’s not a clarion call to action, I don’t know what is.”

Other aspects of the Bring Affordability Home plan include allowing second front doors as-of-right across Ontario to give more people the option to create secondary suites in their homes.

“Back in the disco era there were sweeping changes across Ontario that eliminated secondary suites in many neighbourhoods,” Hudak says. “In the long run, it meant so many rental units are in large buildings. We think you should give people a greater choice.” Allowing more secondary suites will open up new neighbourhoods for rental units, increase affordability for tenants and enable homeowners to use the rental income to pay their mortgages down 15 to 25 per cent faster, OREA says.

Another proposal calls for the creation of a municipal challenge fund that would help municipalities that are trying to modernize zoning bylaws and eliminate unnecessary red tape to hire additional staff.

OREA is also calling for the first-time home buyers land transfer tax rebate to be doubled from $4,000 to $8,000. Hudak says OREA was successful in getting the previous Wynne government to increase the tax rebate from $2,000 to $4,000. A further doubling of the tax rebate will mean first-time homebuyers in much of the province will pay no land transfer tax. While it won’t eliminate the tax in the most expensive markets, it will help buyers with their down payments or renovations, he says.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Your article in REM this morning about ending exclusionary zoning and creating as-of-right zoning for alternative housing is the first sensible new idea that I’ve read in the many years I’ve been involved in affordable housing. Ending the community AND political nimbyism towards affordable housing alternatives would be a good first step.

    Most of the housing-related legislation, initiatives, strategies and tactics passed in the last 40+ years have focused on how to limit housing demand, or such programs inadvertently contribute to increasing demand, rather than increasing supply. Foreign tax on property purchases, barring foreign ownership for two or more years, taxing property “flippings” and other supposed affordable housing tactics are attacking symptoms, not causes and will all result in dire unintended consequences. For example, while financial breaks for first-time homeowners may sound great that incentive only increases the number of prospective buyers who are competing for the same diminishing housing inventory. Conversely, increasing the qualification bar for mortgages may have removed 200,000 Canadian families from the pool of competition but those same families didn’t move out of their rental properties, so the blockage at the top has a cascading effect of locking out new and low-income tenants from the low (“affordable”) end of the rental market.

    Regarding your article’s focus, there are a variety of other causal factors and significant challenges that impede, discourage or prevent the building of second suites, which are always rental units, and subdividing larger homes into smaller homes and rental units. These factors are spread across the three (or four) principal layers of government and these government layers truly only pay lip service to inter-governmental cooperation.

    The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) is brutal against landlords. Out of 46+ potential breaches, 34 uniquely benefit tenants while one (1) uniquely benefits the landlord. One breach benefits neither landlord nor tenant. The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) is a disaster, so much so that a class action has been in discussion between the Province and a landlord organization representing small landlords. Multi-year above guideline increase applications for recovery of capital cost investments discourage any rental property maintenance beyond minimum property standards. Rent control, despite its seeming benefit to tenants, actually is a significant career- and lifestyle-limiting factor in tenant personal growth. It also transfers the financial obligations and duties regarding municipal services from low rent-paying tenants to their market rent-paying peers.

    CRA policies significantly discourage housing investment, especially in the missing middle sector (as you noted – “condoscrapers” and single family homes) because of passive versus active income, recoverable capital cost allowance (RCCA), capital expense depreciation policies, and much more.

    Property Insurance skyrocketed in 2020 with the Canadian insurance industry enjoying one of its most successful and profitable years in decades—during a global health pandemic. Those costs may be absorbed by landlords in the short term but they are eventually passed on to tenants and homebuyers. A detailed profit analysis is here: https://www.realestatemagazine.ca/opinion-organized-insurance-scam-or-troubled-industry/

    Utility rates have skyrocketed, especially electricity. Government and utility companies (often owned by municipalities) pay lip service to alternative energy sources. I know—I installed solar panels and the government denied the HST rebate and the Greener Homes construction rebate. Here’s a detailed analysis of the Ontario Rebate con: https://www.realestatemagazine.ca/opinion-the-great-ontario-electricity-rebate-con/

    Affordable housing is not possible until the Affordable Housing Paradox is resolved. In many Ontario municipalities, rental properties are taxed (property tax) between two and 2.5 times higher than single family homes and condos. The higher the property tax, the lower the net operating income (NOI), on which property tax is based. Raise the tax = lower property value (equity) = less funds for municipal services.

    Stories abound in the media about multi-year municipal approval processes, again something you allude to in your article.

    Construction costs have also skyrocketed so no matter what inducements and incentives are offered, the cost to build anything has increased, which cost is the foundation for establishing the consequent sale price. The quadrupling of lumber costs over the past one to two years is everywhere in the news but steel, concrete and glass have also risen, so much so that major building projects are buying out total inventories years in advance, leaving virtually nothing for smaller projects. More workers are also leaving (typically retiring from) the construction industry than are entering it so skilled labour costs have risen.

    Higher density housing means greater parking challenges. Many applications for increased parking space run afoul of “green space” zoning and supposed curbside appeal.

    I built a seniors’ affordable housing pilot and shut it down for entirely unexpected reasons. Among those reasons were that no mainstream lender would finance affordable housing, and private lenders wanted on average four times the prime market rate because seniors and affordable housing are “too risky.” Building insurance was quoted at two to three times higher than student housing, again because seniors were higher risk than students (which is absurd).

    There are many other intersecting government policies and strategies that are counter-productive. All layers of government completely ignore the small landlord sector but CMHC reports that 49% of all purpose-built residential rental housing in Canada is owned by “non-incorporated” entities, that is, individual owners who hold title in their own name. StatsCan reports that there are perhaps 250,000 public housing units and 14 million private residences built by the private sector.

    Ontario’s debt is the largest subnational debt in the WORLD, ranked at number 20—higher than the debt of 168 COUNTRIES. Ontario pays $9 million per HOUR in interest payments. Canada is ranked number 10 worldwide despite its population-to-land ratio likely being one of the lowest in the world and without a doubt the lowest of all first world countries. The moral is that government simply doesn’t have the resources to solve housing supply, let alone public housing.

    There are other causal factors that must also be considered as part of an all-inclusive housing strategy, which the federal National Housing Strategy hasn’t addressed and which strategy is mostly toothless and mired in red tape and bureacracy.

  2. Reading articles like this just makes me so glad most of my grandkids are in the US – in search of the “American Dream” and not looking forward to the “Canadian Nightmare” where everything you work for is being taxed away after you’ve worked your heart out, paid taxes upon taxes, and now someone wants to put multi-family and businesses on your doorstep catering to the lowest common denominator.
    If our country is so crowded, why are we letting in so many immigrants, with limited means? When was the last time you heard of an immigrant coming from Europe?
    Even our small city (36,000) is placing towers in lower density neighbourhoods. 7 stories over 1 and 2 level homes. Allowing developers to increase the number of units and perching the buildings over the roads – ENJOY LIFE IN THE SHADOWS! Then there’s businesses on cul-de-sacs or in neighbourhoods with quality control because a property owner is too cheap to lease commercial space and wants free water and garbage collection (which are included in residential taxes). Municipalities love the extra taxes from more valuable homes, but will not enforce restrictive covenants after the properties change hands or developer moves on. Parking is a tremendous issue!

    I’ll bet most of your ancestors left the old country in search of a better life for themselves and their descendants, SPACE, and expected to work for it.
    Ghetto-izing Canada is not the answer…..

    • Judy, maybe soon a frightening govt intervention… when a single person lives in a house more than 2500 sf in size, or property tax more than a certain amount, the govt could find it fitting to insist the owner share her/his home with immigrants to relieve the conundrum re lack of housing. Instead of being seen as wasting space owning such. Scary thought. We already live in a police-state regarding taxes on top of taxes for every dollar we spend.

      Many years ago I had an older man family dr. He was from Latvia, and took his training there. In order to come to Canada he had to agree to live and practice way far north of Sudbury in an area lacking medical care for a couple of years before he was “allowed” to live in the Toronto area. Not sure exactly how that plan worked. I always saw his story as being practical. I think his timeframe referred to might have been in the early 1950s.

      Carolyne L 🍁

      • Yes, that seems fair. South African Drs. Etc have to do that now and it’s what our grandparents did to get a start. It is what our daughter and her husband are doing in the US now. Earn your stripes – then you get the reward.
        BTW, was in S.Africa in 2019, and met a lovely couple in their 70’s from Ireland on vacation, who were in tears telling us about how the Irish government was running campaigns in press and on TV trying to shame elderly folks out of their homes. Immigrant families in the area were being rude to them when out in their garden or shopping. Government workers were harassing them by letter and phone weekly. They were incredulous that this could happen to them in a democracy they and their forefathers were born into and carried for generations.
        They had worked all their lives to pay off the mortgage on a home for their family of 8 and grow a lovely garden to feed them and make a base for the kids and grandkids to visit them in their twilight years and finally relax before passing.
        “Couldn’t they at least wait for us to die? These people and their relatives haven’t done anything for our country – they are foreigners.”
        And Africa, itself, was another eye-opener. Particularly the old Rhodesia and S. Africa. Crime, corruption, and decay are the norm in much of the area since the early 90’s. They sell kidnapping insurance with your regular car insurance, farms that fed the much of Africa and Europe are just weeds and no longer being worked, just overun by elephants and people starving who won’t work, but want handouts. Tourists are told to stay in hotels after dark, even black tourists, as even the best area of any city is considered unsafe. Private property rights are in jeopardy. This is the work of the UN, who is influencing politics in Canada too and that our PM is trying to impress.
        Half-truths at work, we could be in the same boat very shortly…….

        • Oh, my!
          Oh dear Lord! Thank you Judy for sharing this information. WOW! doesn’t nearly cover it. Back in 2007 before we met my husband had given millions from his company to Africa to build schools and orphanages. I have his pictures with the teachers and black children, him dancing in local garb with them.

          Your description of the seniors’ story is heartbreaking. And likely to be one told here apparently in the not far future. I’m not a racist by any definition and remember in the early 70s that Axworthy’s goal is what we see loud and clear today. It’s actually frightening. Farms disappearing, guns and violence everywhere. Not familiar to us growing up.

          I still remember when it was safe to walk Yonge St alone after dark, as a single woman, looking in the giant Eatons and Simpson store windows.

          Now impossible. Not even safe for men or woman to walk alone after dark in the burbs, walking the dog. Remember the tv ad a few years back that said: “it’s 9 o’clock – do you know where your children are?”

          How the world has changed just in recent years. Fortunately we have our memories of the best of times life that are disappearing. And quickly turning into the worst of times. It’s not been our style to carry guns everywhere. Or to have to look over our shoulders late at night or even during the day in some local areas.

          Guns and kids don’t go together. Never did and shouldn’t now. Totally out of control, even drive by shootings on the highways. No one and no place is safe anymore. And this is just the beginning. My heart goes out to the seniors as you describe. Horrifying. And promo’d by the politicians who themselves are a different stripe. There’s no going back to what we called the good old days.

          Carolyne L 🍁

  3. Tim: would you like a 4 unit rental built next your multi- million home. If you do you will be fighting this battle with few allies. I suppose you won’t care if the owner is an absentee landlord. Will it be under rent control, too. The front lawn will be a parking lot. Are you near a university or mass transit? That will help keep the rents up and create full occupancy. A realist not a racist

  4. In my opinion, this policy proposal should include the entire province, so we can be rid of this one residence per property policy. Government should make sure that the apartments or rental units are legal for life safety, but aside from that, a province-wide decision could be made to eliminate this restrictive provision, just make it residential zoning, vs. single family residential.

    And given the goal is to increase the housing supply, radical action needs to be taken to simplify and ease the process for creating subdivisions across Ontario. Right now it simply takes too long and is too costly in fees. People need homes and lots to build on – now, not in 5 years and $1,000,000 later in consulting fees and studies.

    It is also time to eliminate the automatic merging on title of previously separate properties, simply because they are owned by the same party. This only applies to subdivision lots, but this provision should be eliminated from the Planning Act. It causes many needless headaches for property owners, and especially those in rural areas.

  5. Is this zoning an anomaly municipal-only related? Decades ago I discovered that if a purchaser bought both halves of a semi-detached property in Peel region the minute title of both properties changed hands, the property lost its single family zoning status. Did title of both portions have to change simultaneously to the new ower date-wise? I can’t remember the details anymore. Someone else might know.

    I didn’t sell a half dozen semi’s in my whole career. An agent in my old RLP office encountered the situation and created discussion about the topic. I called the city offices to confirm so I could understand.

    Carolyne L 🍁

    • Section 29 of the Planning Act merges two or more properties that are adjacent to each other under the exact same name even if purchased at different times. Lots of wives became owners of the other half of semi-detachs over these last 60 years

      • Norm, are you using the word adjacent as meaning attached? Or just nearby. I’m not into semantics, just wondering relative to the zoning topic.

        ===

        Oh, mercy. WIVES! That’s a whole n’other topic. See the Family Law (Reform) Act (1972 or 73). But it was years before banks would ALLOW a woman to accrue debt on the strength of her own signature such as a mortgage without having her husband, father, brother – someone defined as a male sign on the dotted line.

        Likewise when applying for a job the applicant had to answer the question: are you planning on having (more) children. If the applicant answered yes, chances were very good she would not be hired.

        You will remember that women were essentially non-persons, and their husband’s property. So depending upon when, the wife could not buy a property in her own name, adjacent or otherwise.

        So it begs an interesting philosophical undermining (legal) sorting out.

        If a “wife” wanted to open her own business even today some bankers ask her to have her husband come to approve her intent and sometimes ask the husband to add his support by providing his signature to the indenture. Although not allowed to ask they still often do.

        Cordially,
        Carolyne

        • Adjacent is the same as attached. Aka adjoining might be the word I should have used to clarify. Section 29 complicated things for finding another family member or Corporation to own the adjoining property when purchased in order to be a different owner. The wife was often used for that. In the event of divorce the wife would get half anyway. Lol For many owners, who found out later, paying for a severance was an expensive lesson that a lawyer should have known about at the time of purchase

  6. Check out Places to Grow legislation, Tim.
    No need to infringe on the rights of taxpayers who have sacrificed for years to pay for their homes. Build your rentals where the above plan recommends and show some respect for a system that has worked well for generations!

  7. A few American Cities have eased up on the zoning restrictions and it seems to have worked well. My only issue is this housing crisis is more of a Toronto(gta) and Vancouver thing. As Tim sates some people have left Ontario to live in another Province. This is bad? We have a big country with some beautiful Provinces. Maybe it is time for Canadians to realize this and go explore other places to live. We live in a Global World now.

    • The housing crunch has a much further reach than the gta. With rising prices in real estate across the country, so too has the price of rental units. In some areas almost double. In London Ontario there are multiple bidding on rentals. People are desperate to find something they can afford. It’s become a very big problem, very fast.

    • I agree with David, yes we do have a large country and with the internet where you operate your business from in many sector does not matter. Also, the zoning change does not need to be as drastic as you describe. The NDP introduced law from the 90’s still allows for in law suite in R1 zoning. In Ottawa the new OP does introduce high density around LRT- light rail stations. Medium density nearby along the route in most cases would just need to be added and in many cases are there. To annoy people uselessly is not an answer if you want endorsement- to allow duplexes in single family areas is probably all you need. Allow triplexes and quad where you can pou row housing also make sense with height restrictions. It is all a matter of aesthetics , carbon footprint. A blanket change in law of the kind you suggest at the provincial level may be raising too much ire uselessly and counterproductive when people have signified they want change. A blanket change allowing municipalities some flexibility for their own situation is best in my humble opinion.

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