Municipalities and building industry working together now to ensure housing essential after COVID-19
In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the government of Ontario had earlier decided to include construction sites as essential workplaces, permitting our industry to continue working on homes that were close to completion, while practicing social distancing. And on May 19, all construction was allowed to resume.
The earlier reduction of construction activity, particularly where it is seasonally dependant, could negatively impact housing supply in an already tight market. All municipal governments must continue to put the proper processes in place now, so that the industry can hit the ground running to meet the region’s pressing housing needs when things return to “normal.”
BILD is working closely with GTA municipal governments throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Industry representatives are engaged in regular calls with GTA city officials, and we have seen success in unlocking doors that were initially closed to the industry. This is imperative progress towards ensuring that we can meet the demand of new homes once normalcy returns.
Many, but not all GTA municipalities, have adopted exceptional best practices, or have enhanced existing ones, and have created new protocols to allow for online building permit application submissions, virtual inspections and construction permit issuance. Some municipalities have facilitated vital communication between the public, the industry and city committees and councils to promote important stakeholder consultations. It’s not business as usual, but this type of virtual public and industry consultation has allowed the approval process to continue keep the industry moving.
Most municipalities had the technical capacity prior to COVID-19 and have been in a position to easily enhance these capabilities to best adapt to changing priorities. For example, city council meetings are live-streamed on city websites or available on YouTube, keeping the public and industry engaged. Residents and industry groups have been encouraged to email submissions and make deputations at virtual town halls. Larger delegations have participated via telephone or by virtual conferencing.
Zoom meetings have moved out of the boardroom and onto construction sites, as homebuilders are working with municipalities to schedule remote video inspections to ensure that newhome buyers can take possession of their homes as soon as possible while protecting workers and the public. It is this type of resourcefulness that will allow the building industry and the economy to bounce back more quickly.
Unfortunately, this type of proactive engagement is not universal to all municipalities, and housing supply and affordability will suffer in some of the GTA’s cities as a result.
The innovative measures taken by some municipal governments to continue with construction has been encouraging and we applaud and appreciate their efforts. However, as we get closer to opening the economy there are processes that can be put into place now. All municipal governments must provide a form of an online permit portal, continue with the approval processes as requests come in and continue with inspections so that the building industry can continue to make significant contributions to building communities and help rebuilding the economy.
Dave Wilkes is President and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD). bildgta.ca