Zoning has long been identified as the preponderant reason for persistent housing shortages in Ontario, and a group of real estate professionals has proposed how to solve it.
The Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CUR), Ontario Real Estate Association and Ontario Home Builders’ Association believe that creating as-of-right zoning along 200 major transit hubs in the province will create thousands of new housing units. In a report released yesterday, they identified underutilized transit nodes throughout the province and are now calling on Doug Ford’s government to take action.
“By building on top of and around major transit hubs, we believe over 20,000 new housing units can be made available to first time home buyers every year,” said Tim Hudak, OREA’s CEO. “That will make a major dent in one of biggest housing crises we’ve seen in Ontario.”
The provincial government expects 4.3 million new people over the next 24 years, and if the report, Transit Nodes in Ontario Have Untapped Potential, is correct, it could avert an even larger crisis that would exacerbate affordability woes.
By mandating as-of-right zoning, the group contend that, not only will a wider array of uses be permitted, precious time will be saved by preapproving development heights. The goal, says Hudak, is to eliminate red tape and increase an affordable supply of housing.
“It’s the first time since Canada was founded that homeownership rates are on the decline,” he said. “It’s always been a great part of Canada’s culture that every generation would have a better chance of homeownership than the previous generation, but in an era of low interest rates and a great economy, fewer people can find homes. The bottom line is we need to drive housing supply for millennials and empty-nesters looking to downsize.”
Transit Nodes in Ontario Have Untapped Potential cites a decade-old CMHC report that looked at developing 1,000 housing units per square kilometre—which would be supported by infrequent bus service—and 3,000 units per square kilometre near rapid rail like subways. This is also where missing middle housing enters the equation.
“Depending on where you are in Toronto, Hamilton or Ottawa, you look at a high level of four- to six-storey buildings and within 800 metres of a station you’d see height decline to stacked townhomes and ground-level housing,” said Hudak. “That short 15-minute walk would create walkable communities with a nice mix of mid-rise and stacked townhomes, retail and restaurants.”
The report includes policy recommendations for the government that could spur the kind of development over the next two decades needed to accommodate population growth. A major one is revising the Section 37 application, because it currently acts as a disincentive for municipalities to create zoning compatible with transit oriented development.
“There’s huge incentive not to update zoning with Section 37,” said Michael de Lint, director of regulatory reform and technical standards at the Residential Construction Council of Ontario. “The reality is we have a growth plan that says we want mid- and high-rises along transit and arterial roads, but zoning is based on two or three storeys. Developers want to comply with the growth plan, but have to deal with out-of-date zoning and Section 37, which requires them to pay money to meet the growth plan target. So we recommend getting rid of it with any zoning that doesn’t comply with the growth plan.”