The mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will be able to veto certain council decisions related to the construction of housing under a new “strong-mayor” system, but advocates remain unsure whether this change will address the housing supply crisis.
Proposed regulations for the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, released by the province Monday, broadly outline what types of council decisions can be overruled if they are deemed to interfere with two “provincial priorities.”
Those priorities are building 1.5 million residential units by 2031, and the construction of infrastructure to support increased development, including transit, roads and utilities. Under the regulations, a mayor would be able to strike down a bylaw, such as a zoning decision, by providing a written rationale within two days of council approving it. Council would, however, still be able to override a mayor’s veto power with a two-thirds majority vote.
Mayors will also be able to hire or dismiss senior management and direct staff without requiring council approval, and they will be responsible for crafting annual budgets. The mayors won’t have the authority to unilaterally introduce and approve new bylaws; they can only veto decisions passed by council.
The strong-mayor legislation was passed in September, but will only come into effect in November, when the cities’ new councils first meet after the October municipal elections.
The regulations also propose the veto power be extended to decisions made under the Development Charges Act, which allows municipal councils to bill developers in order to help pay for services to support new homes, such as water and sewer infrastructure, community centres and fire and police facilities. In July, Toronto city council approved an increase to development charges for residential buildings by 46 per cent, and 40 per cent for non-residential developments.
More Neighbours Toronto, an advocacy group calling for solutions to address the housing crisis in Ontario’s capital, says the veto powers could be beneficial, depending on the mayor.
Curbing development charges could also be a positive step in attracting more builders and keeping costs down for residents, said More Neighbours organizer Rocky Petkov.
“We have this overreliance on development charges,” Mr. Petkov said. “The result of that is higher housing costs for people who are just trying to get by in the city.”
Premier Doug Ford has long spoken in support of more authority for mayors, arguing it would speed up progress at city hall and give more power to the elected official voted in to represent the entire city. The strong-mayor plan is being piloted in Toronto and Ottawa, which account for more than one-third of the province’s expected growth, but Mr. Ford said it could be expanded to other large municipalities.
Karen Chapple, director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, said the broad wording of the priorities could lead to contention about what types of housing to focus on. She put forth a hypothetical scenario where older, existing buildings could be approved for demolition to make way for luxury condos, instead of being converted into affordable housing.
But the powers may not even have much of an effect on what gets passed, Ms. Chapple said, noting that mayors have already had success in getting their agendas approved and being on the winning side of votes. Toronto Mayor John Tory and the majority of councillors voted in agreement more than 90 per cent of the time, for example, although Ms. Chapple pointed to a council discussion on legalizing rooming houses that didn’t end up going to a vote because it wasn’t clear whether Mr. Tory had enough support.
Ms. Chapple said she expects the biggest improvements to housing will come from the budget process. Having that rest with mayors will allow them to prioritize funding for projects needed to advance development, along with the necessary infrastructure.
The platform of Mr. Tory, who is running for a third term, includes a plan to allocate city-owned land to be developed by non-profits. That could be advanced by providing necessary funding in the budget, Ms. Chapple said.
“There is a lot more ability to put your money where your mouth is. Now he would be able to put some budget money behind that.”
After a budget is tabled, councillors will have 30 days to pass amendments, which could then be vetoed by the mayor without being subject to the two provincial priorities.