Ontario Premier Doug Ford repeated his tired mantra about building more homes last week, after the province’s Integrity Commissioner ruled that the Housing Minister, Steve Clark, had allowed “the private interests of certain developers” in the Greenbelt to be “furthered improperly.”
“When we have a housing crisis, I have two options,” Mr. Ford said. “I sit back … and let the whole province fall apart, or we move forward and we build homes.”
That was the same lame justification he used three weeks earlier, after the Ontario Auditor-General similarly ruled that his government’s “flawed” process for removing sites from the Greenbelt was “biased” and led to “certain prominent developers receiving preferential treatment.”
The Auditor-General also noted in her report that the Ford government’s own housing affordability task force had found in 2022 that there was no need to build in the Greenbelt, because “a shortage of land isn’t the cause” of the crisis.
Mr. Clark resigned from cabinet on Monday, but the implication of Mr. Ford’s “I have two options” mantra remains that his government can’t build homes without dispatching with fairness, impartiality, fact-based evidence, or respect for conflict-of-interest laws.
It also implies that he hopes voters will buy his messaging as long as enough new homes start popping up before the next election.
But what happens if his government’s favoured developers can’t build 50,000 affordable homes in the Greenbelt in 10 years, as he promised? There are good reasons to ask questions about this.
Start with infrastructure costs. The Auditor-General in her report found that “most of the land removed from the Greenbelt may not be ready for housing development in time to meet government goals.”
That’s because the government adjusted critical early criteria that said the chosen lands “must have the following services available: municipal and regional roads; sanitary trunk mains; regional trunk water mains; gas mains; utilities (hydro and communications).”
Instead, when some of the desired sites didn’t meet those criteria, they were softened to “lands must have the potential ability to be serviced in the near-term with local infrastructure upgrades to be entirely funded by proponents.”
Because of the desire to keep the Greenbelt scheme a secret, the team that oversaw the selection process didn’t talk to the municipalities that would have to supply the needed services.
But the Auditor-General did. She found that in the case of the single biggest selected site – located in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve and accounting for 58 per cent of the acreage liberated from the Greenbelt – it could take up to 25 years to complete the needed infrastructure upgrades, at a cost of up to $2-billion.
That site, owned by TACC Developments, could hold 30,000 of the 50,000 homes Mr. Ford says will be built in the Greenbelt by 2032, according to a report from the regional municipality in which the land is located.
The Auditor-General also found that the Ford government has not created a formal framework for monitoring whether developers are fulfilling their obligations to start building by 2025 and to pay for servicing costs up front, or even to verify if the goal of 50,000 homes is being achieved.
There’s a reasonable chance some developers will be able to have a small number of new homes under way by the end of 2025. TACC Developments says its first phase in the Duffins preserve will be a 1,200-unit subdivision. The Integrity Commissioner found that, as of Aug. 8, the province had reached agreements in principle with the owners of about 12 per cent of the new Greenbelt acreage available for development.
But after that, who knows? There is no obligation on the developers to actually build 50,000 homes in the Greenbelt. They will only build more if the infrastructure is affordable and if the housing market is profitable, and Mr. Ford will have little means of persuading them to keep going after 2025.
Ontario may or may not see 50,000 homes built on precious farmland and wetlands by 2032. Mr. Ford may or may not survive the scandal’s hit to his government’s credibility.
But the major developers that will be free to develop their Greenbelt holdings at their leisure after 2025? They’ll be fine forever.