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This property in Markham, Ont., is one of several that was bought shortly before an announcement of housing being built on the Greenbelt.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Ontario’s largest municipalities already have more than 1.1 million new homes in the development approvals pipeline, according to a new analysis that casts doubt on the government’s rationale for opening up the protected Greenbelt for housing.

The figures, released Wednesday by the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario, indicate that as of last year more than 1.1 million housing units have been either approved or proposed for construction in the province’s large cities and regions.

The tally suggests that Ontario’s largest municipalities are already well on the way to considering significant additional housing capacity that, if approved and constructed, would cover a large portion of the Ford government’s target of 1.5 million new homes over the next decade.

“We do not see the need to remove lands from the Greenbelt as being necessary to address Ontario’s housing challenges,” said Rob Horne, senior adviser to the planners’ organization and a former Waterloo Region chief planner.

The analysis, which is based on data from municipalities representing roughly 70 per cent of the province’s population, is the latest in a string of reports, including by the government’s own industry-led housing task force, that have concluded that Ontario does not have a shortage of land for new housing.

“There is not by any stretch of the imagination a case to be made that we need more land designated for housing in order to meet that 1.5 million threshold,” said Phil Pothen, Ontario environment program manager at the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

Instead, Mr. Pothen and other critics argue that municipalities could address the housing shortage by changing zoning rules to better use land within existing neighbourhoods.

NDP MPP Jessica Bell called on the government to enact measures to make housing more affordable rather than focusing solely on supply issues.

Victoria Podbielski, a spokeswoman for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, did not address the planners’ findings but said in a statement that lands removed from the Greenbelt will support the construction of at least 50,000 homes “very quickly.”

Premier Doug Ford’s government has faced intense scrutiny since late last year, when it broke previous promises to allow development in parts of the Greenbelt, the protected countryside arcing around the Greater Toronto Area, in the name of solving the housing crisis. The government opened up 3,000 hectares of the Greenbelt, while adding back 3,800 hectares of land elsewhere.

Allegations that some developers – and donors to Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party – knew in advance of the Greenbelt decision have led to investigations by Ontario’s Auditor-General and integrity commissioner. Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark have denied tipping off developers.

In finding that Ontario’s largest cities and municipalities already have more than 1.1 million new homes in the development approvals pipeline, the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario tallied housing unit applications that have already been fully or conditionally approved, those that are in the application process, and those that have been proposed.

However, in large cities such as Toronto, site plan approval and construction for apartments and condominiums can take years, meaning long delays before units are ready.

In addition, after receiving required approvals, the decision on when to break ground on subdivisions or condominium towers is up to developers. Delays often occur because of construction costs, material shortages and the strength of the housing market.

The planners’ report included an additional “proxy” estimate of 150,000 accessory units, which are basement, laneway and garden suites, bringing its total tally of housing units in the development pipeline to 1.27 million. If constructed, this would represent roughly 85 per cent of the government’s 1½ million home goal.

The report noted the actual tally of new housing units under consideration in Ontario is even higher, given that its data did not include approvals and proposed units in smaller municipalities representing the remaining 30 per cent of the province’s population.

In addition, the organization’s analysis did not consider land that could be used for housing but for which developers have not filed applications.

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