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Toronto-area builders point again to land shortage

A town home development under construction at Lakeshore Blvd West and Long Branch Ave. in Toronto, July 10, 2017.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Developers say new studies point to a worsening shortage of buildable land in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

A report by Altus Group showed that, of 5,377 new homes sold in October, 2017 in the GTA, "about 91 per cent of them [4,884 units] were multifamily homes, and only nine per cent [493] were low-rise single-family homes such as detached and semi-detached houses and townhomes." The report, prepared for Toronto's Building Industry and Land Development Association, said it continues the trend that began in 2016 of falling rates of low-rise new home availability.

Bob Dugan, the chief economist of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, said relief is not expected any time soon. "In 2018 and into 2019, housing starts are projected to decline while house prices should increase."

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Recently, Matthew Cory of Malone Given Parsons Ltd. Real estate consultancy published a study that argued there was only about 17,200 hectares of greenfield or uncommitted land available for development in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area as described under the Growth Plan.

The non-profit Neptis Foundation has argued his number doesn't include another 14,600 hectares of planned new greenfield housing, of which maybe two-thirds has been built-out. Neptis also says the MGP paper doesn't reflect that there is another, outer ring of regions (including Peterborough, Simcoe, Wellington and Waterloo) all of which brings the total greenfield land available for housing inside the Growth Plan boundaries closer to 41,800 hectares.

"The bottom line is that there is plenty of land for low-rise development and lots of development already approved. It is a matter of when it will come on line," says Marcy Burchfield, executive director of the Neptis Foundation.

Bryan Tuckey, CEO and president of BILD, says that municipalities have made it harder and longer to push project approvals through. "Many of the easy sites have already been built on," he says.

Mr. Tuckey says 15- or 20-years ago it took seven years to get a new development from applications to delivery; now it takes 12 years. He also says that, even 10 years after the Growth Plan, there are some communities that haven't updated planning by-laws to bring them into conformity and, although there may be greenfield land available, it is not yet serviced (connected to sewage and water supplies) – an assertion Neptis disputes.

One recent study did support the complaints of long delays in land servicing. An April, 2017 report from Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Research and Land Development by Frank Clayton and David Amborski looked at York Region's lag in adding municipal service extensions in Queensville and Holland Landing. "While these communities have had approvals in place since the 1990s, it looks like it will be upwards of 30-years later that serviced lands become available for new housing to be built," the report states.

These days, according to Mr. Tuckey, GTA families are moving to the outer reaches of the region in search of family homes, which has created construction booms in London, Woodstock, Fergus, Caledonia and Lindsay.

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