More than 28,000 potential new homes in Toronto are caught up in worsening delays before Ontario’s planning tribunal, the Toronto Region Board of Trade says – even as the provincial government pledges to speed up approvals and cut red tape for new housing.
The business lobby group released numbers on Friday that indicate thousands of planned units are in limbo because of a backlog of appeal hearings before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and its successor, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Many in the development industry say paperwork and approval delays are major factors constraining the supply of new homes, which in turn is driving a tight real-estate market and skyrocketing rents.
The board of trade points out that even if it is assumed that only half of the units now held up will be approved, that would allow construction to start on 14,000 new homes. (An average of about 18,000 units – mostly condominiums – get built in Toronto each year, but the number varies.) The board of trade’s analysis does not include thousands more planned homes outside Toronto’s borders.
For now, the planning tribunal is scheduling new hearings into mid-2020 to deal with the backlog. But the board of trade says the first budget of Doug Ford’s PC government, expected this spring, should provide funding for temporary adjudicators so the tribunal can hold extra hearings.
“We think the government’s doing some great work on red tape around housing in general,” said Brian Kelcey, vice-president of public affairs for the board of trade. “But this is a resource problem. They just need to stop and invest the resources to be able to process more of these cases more quickly.”
Mr. Kelcey says the OMB was already facing delays when the previous Liberal government announced reforms in 2017 that strengthened the authority of local municipalities and weakened the OMB’s powers to override their planning decisions.
But before the Liberals' Local Planning Appeal Tribunal was put place, developers rushed in applications so they would be assessed under the previous rules, making things worse, Mr. Kelcey said. Now, at least 97 cases – the vast majority old OMB cases – are stuck in the queue awaiting hearings at the tribunal, he said.
While many expect the emphasis in the upcoming provincial budget to be cost-cutting, board of trade president and CEO Jan De Silva said in a statement that an investment of just “a few million” dollars could tackle the problem: “Fixing this backlog may be the best tool the government has to bring more housing supply rapidly to market.”
The Ford government, elected last June, has made speeding up planning approvals to get more housing built more quickly a priority. It recently withdrew a proposal that critics said would have opened the door to development on protected greenbelt lands.
The government has also proposed easing density requirements in Ontario’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, a move that some environmentalists have warned would bring 1990s-style suburban sprawl.
In an e-mailed statement, Brian Gray, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said the government has been seeking more adjudicators for the tribunal since October, posting a job advertisement.
But the hiring process is run by the tribunal, he said, and overseen by the Public Appointments Secretariat.
He said the tribunal has interviewed applicants and is expected in the coming weeks to recommend new adjudicators for its roster, which currently numbers 22. He did not say how many would be added.