Three recent initiatives in Ontario aim to tackle soaring housing costs. Toronto’s city council adopted so-called inclusionary zoning, Hamilton chose not to expand its urban growth boundary and will push for greater density within city limits instead, and a provincial housing affordability task force tabled 55 recommendations. Will any of the three help affordability, hurt it or maybe a bit of both?
1. Clayton, an economist and housing analyst since the late 1960s, is senior research fellow at Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development. Given Ontario’s fast-growing population, it hasn’t built enough housing. About 414,000 households should have been formed from 2016 to 2021, but just 349,000 new housing units were built. The solution: “Increase supply,” he says.
2. “Rule out [any help from] inclusionary zoning,” Clayton says. The idea sounds enticing: If a developer builds a 300-unit condo building, set aside, say, 20% of the units for reduced rent or low purchase prices. But the developer then raises prices of market ones. “There’s no net benefit,” he says. And such zoning often benefits middle-income earners rather than just the low end.
3. Will developers invade old neighbourhoods of houses and build highrises? “I don’t think you’ll ever see that,” Clayton says. Ratepayer opposition would scare politicians. But gentle density could help supply—allowing, say, a four-unit low-rise where one house used to sit, letting homeowners add secondary rental suites and building taller so-called missing middle housing on already busy streets.
4. Don’t get Clayton started on Hamilton. In a survey, 90.4% of respondents opposed expanding its boundary to provide greenfield land for new houses. Clayton says the survey wasn’t statistically valid and environmentalists hijacked it. No expansion also means 78% of new units will have to be apartments—not singles, semis and townhomes buyers want—for the city to hit density targets.
5. Clayton is optimistic about the Ontario task force proposals. It takes too long for builders to get local planning and zoning approvals, and it’s too costly. One example: In 2011, York Region allowed three municipalities—East Gwillimbury, Vaughan and Markham—to expand boundaries. “There hasn’t been a single housing unit built,” Clayton says. The province has to be able to overrule municipalities.
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