Proposed changes to the Growth Plan could help address housing challenges
If you hope to own a home in the GTA one day, you received some good news recently. The Ontario government proposed changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the policy that manages growth in our region. The amendments, if approved, would mean more housing supply and choice and, ultimately, better housing affordability.
The Growth Plan was introduced by a previous provincial government in 2006 and was revised in 2017. Both versions brought in new requirements in the planning process. The objective was praiseworthy — to encourage the development of compact, mixed-use communities that would make efficient use of transit, infrastructure and public services.
Unfortunately, many municipalities struggled to meet the new planning requirements, especially density targets that did not recognize the diverse character of our region and did not take into account the availability of transit and infrastructure. For instance, the 2006 Growth Plan called for 50 residents and jobs per hectare in areas that are not yet built up but are designated for future development. This target was already a challenge for many smaller communities that did not have the transit and other infrastructure to support it, yet the 2017 Growth Plan increased it to 80 residents and jobs per hectare. That’s about double the current density of suburban areas like Scarborough and Etobicoke. How would municipalities in rural areas achieve it?
The proposed changes take into account the differences between municipalities and call for varying numbers of residents and jobs per hectare: not less than 60 for Hamilton, Peel, Waterloo and York; not less than 50 for Barrie, Brantford, Guelph, Orillia, Peterborough, Durham, Halton and Niagara; and not less than 40 for Kawartha Lakes, Brant, Dufferin, Haldimand, Northumberland, Peterborough, Simcoe and Wellington. These new density targets are a lot more realistic for municipalities to meet.
The proposed changes to the Growth Plan would also give municipalities some flexibility to develop housing on lands that have previously been designated as employment areas and on small pieces of land that are currently outside their settlement area boundaries.
When municipalities have more flexibility about where and how growth occurs, they can build more housing and the right mix of housing type for their community, while making efficient use of land and maximizing their existing infrastructure. Ultimately, a healthier supply of housing means better housing affordability. That’s great news if you and your family are looking to live, work and own a home in your chosen community, because you are more likely to find the type of home you want and can afford.
Until these proposed changes are implemented, we will continue to face a different reality. The GTA is forecast to grow to 9.7 million people by 2041, yet we are not building enough homes to accommodate this change. We are falling short by about 8,000 to 10,000 homes every year. This supply shortfall drives up home prices and rents, creating pressures that are particularly felt by young families and first-time homebuyers.
The proposed changes to the Growth Plan would help us address this generational challenge. The government is to be applauded for taking these concrete, positive steps in the right direction.
Dave Wilkes is president and CEO of BILD (Building Industry and Land Development Association), and can be found on: