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Toronto Toronto-area politicians rally against Ford’s housing-supply plan

Changes in Bill-108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, would broaden the power of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) to determine the best planning outcome in development disputes rather than sending issues back to a municipal council for re-evaluation.

Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail

Municipal politicians from across the Greater Toronto Area rallied on Monday against the government’s new housing-supply plan, charging that it will not live up to its promise of increasing affordability.

Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow, along with municipal government representatives from Aurora, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill and Cambridge, held a news conference to condemn Bill-108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, which Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announced last Thursday. Mr. Matlow called on the government to pause the bill and conduct further consultations with municipalities, which now have less than 30 days to respond. He said the proposed changes would not make homes more affordable, and would severely weaken local councils’ input during planning appeals.

“Premier Ford has handed over the development process to the development industry and their lobbyists,” Mr. Matlow told reporters.

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Changes in the bill would broaden the power of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) to determine the best planning outcome in development disputes rather than sending issues back to a municipal council for re-evaluation. The new system would give the tribunal powers similar to those of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which was replaced with the LPAT in 2017 after sustained criticism from municipalities and residence groups that it was too friendly to developers.

Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas, who campaigned to reform the OMB, said legislation to create the tribunal received unanimous support from all major provincial parties because it was recognized that municipal councils should have greater control over planning in their communities.

“This bill is a reversal of that hard-fought recognition,” he said.

The government’s housing plan promises the legislation would speed up local decisions, and give more power to the tribunal to make “timely decisions." It also says it will make the appeals process more efficient by spending $1.4-million in 2019-20 to hire more adjudicators.

The plan notes that a backlog of OMB legacy cases before the tribunal, about 100,000 in Toronto alone, stands in the way of new housing, which it says is the solution to the affordability crisis.

But Mr. Matlow called it a “false narrative” to suggest more supply is the sole solution.

“If you just allow builders to build … high-priced houses and luxury rental apartment buildings, that doesn’t actually address the affordability question," he said.

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Julie O’Driscoll, spokeswoman for Mr. Clark, said in an e-mailed statement that claiming affordability is not tied to a supply shortage “ignores work by numerous organizations," including the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, and “defies basic economics” and the need for more multiunit housing.

She said Mr. Matlow had “ample opportunity” to participate in consultations launched in November, 2018, that received more than 2,000 submissions and were attended by city officials.

Ms. O’Driscoll said the government is making it easier to build rental housing such as laneway homes or large apartment buildings.

“As more rental units are built, tenants will have more options and rents should come down.”

But Mr. Mrakas was critical of the bill for not directly addressing residents’ needs for housing options and, in particular, purpose-built rental housing.

“A local issue can’t be solved at 30,000 feet,” he said. “Community-specific housing issues need solutions that are informed by the communities themselves.”

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