Housing prices were already high when Doug Ford took office and they have skyrocketed under his watch with the price of a home effectively DOUBLING during his four years in office. While this is a national problem, housing costs have grown especially quickly in Ontario in recent years.
Most parties and experts agree that a shortage of housing supply is contributing to the rise in housing prices. There is, however, some disagreement about why there is a lack of supply and whether or not increasing supply is enough, on its own, to actually make housing affordable.
So far, the Conservatives have mostly focused on increasing supply by opening more land to development through MZOs and a growth plan that pushes municipalities to rezone farmland outside their urban boundaries for housing. However, municipalities assert that there is plenty of land available for development and other factors are restricting supply. The Conservatives’ own Housing Affordability Task Force has stated that “a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem” and instead focusses on speeding up approvals and changing zoning to get more homes built on the same amount of land.
Mississauga has stated that they believe developers are intentionally not building projects that are approved in order to keep prices high. Finally, labour shortages in the skilled trades are also contributing to the supply crunch.
- Supply is a problem, but lack of supply is not caused by a shortage land.
- The Housing Affordability task force highlighted zoning and approval processes.
- Labour shortages are also a factor.
BOTTOM LINE: Supply is an issue, but banks, real estate agents and developers and others who make money off the housing market want you to think it is the only factor.
Housing is an appealing asset for large corporations and global investors and this is also driving up the cost of housing. The provincial government can and should institute policies like taxes on vacant homes and regulations for foreign buyers.
British Columbia has created a speculation and vacancy tax which homeowners are exempted from for their principle residence. Ontario has a tax called the Non-Resident Speculation Tax which was brought in by the Liberals in 2017. Unlike the BC tax, it is applied to certain property purchases rather than on an annual basis and therefore does less to discourage investors from leaving homes vacant.
From the 1970s to the 1980s the federal and provincial governments invested heavily in co-ops and other forms of social housing to help meet the housing needs of those who couldn’t afford to purchase their own home. Beginning in the 1990s, these investments declined basically to zero and some argue that this disinvestment contributed to our housing supply crunch and drove up housing costs. Federal Liberals began some reinvestment in co-op housing in 2018, but this money is primarily being used to keep existing coops in the system rather than build new units.
New federal and provincial loans and loan guarantees for coop housing would help create new truly affordable units for residents of Ontario.
Much of the discussion of housing costs overlooks renters. 30% of Ontarians are renters and many of them are struggling to make ends meet. Policies to keep rents within reach such as rent control and incentives to build more rental housing must be part of any approach to housing affordability.
What are the parties saying about housing?
While the current government has talked a lot about getting homes built, they have introduced very little concrete policy other than issuing Minister’s Zoning Orders intended to speed construction — the impact of which has been mixed at best.
More recently, they pulled together a Housing Affordability Task Force to make recommendations, but chose to ignore the most substantive recommendations around zoning and instead drew up a limited bill (109) which primarily focused on reducing delays in permitting. Read more about what was and wasn’t included in the bill here.
The Conservatives have increased the NRST from 15% to 20%, but they have not brought in regulations like a vacant homes tax to limit speculation by Ontario residents.
For four years, Doug Ford’s government has been talking about building more homes and bringing down prices, but they have done very little and housing prices have doubled since they took office.
Doug Ford also rolled back rent control rules to once again exempt buildings built after 1991 from rent control.
The Green Party has proposed new or expanded taxes on real estate speculators, including a 20% tax on buyers who already own multiple homes, zoning changes to allow more ‘missing middle’ housing like duplexes, triplexes and garden suites to be built in residential areas, greater support for social housing and working with the Federal Government to increase funding for coop and non-profit housing developments as well as a number of more targeted policy proposals like a brownfield remediation fund. They will strengthen rent control in multiple ways. They also suggest specific policy for Indigenous communities, those in need of supportive housing and those facing gender-based violence. While their plan lacks some details, the Greens are unlikely to form government and the plan gives a sense of what policies they might support within a coalition government.
In their platform, the Liberal government pledges to increase rent control, invest in new social housing and institute new fees and taxes aimed at land speculators. They also propose to establish an “Ontario Home Building Corporation” to “work with local communities, not-for-profit housing partners and developers to build and maintain affordable homes of all types, either as a primary financing source or builder.” The OHBC will also be used to developed provincial lands that are currently under-utilized.
While they will not commit to ending exclusionary zoning, they will ‘work with municipalities to increase zoning options.’
Read their full platform here. Housing begins on pg. 13.
The NDP lead their discussion of housing with recommendations for strengthening rent control and fixing the Landlord and Tenant Board. They recognize that survivors of gender-based violence, Indigenous people, residents of Northern Ontario and the homeless all have specific housing needs that will not be met by generalized policy intervention in the housing market. They will offer a special loan for those buying their first house, a vacant property tax and increases to the Non-Resident Speculation Tax and a number of more targeted policy proposals.
They also propose investments in social housing and support for coop housing with the goals of extending the life of 260,000 affordable homes and building 69,000 new affordable homes.
They will create a portable housing benefit that will help up to 311,000 households pay their rent.
They have also committed to ending exclusionary zoning in order to increase housing supply by allowing more ‘missing middle’ housing like duplexes, triplexes and small apartments built in urban areas.
More Neighbours Toronto — a grassroots group focused entirely on building more housing — has also released their housing policy report card. Read it here.
As in other policy areas, the difference between the Conservatives – with their almost exclusive focus on supply and faith in the free market – and the other three parties is greater than the differences in policy between the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals. Furthermore, because the most likely outcomes of this election are a Conservative majority and a coalition of the other parties, you should vote for the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
If you would like to see a full range of policy solutions which includes zoning changes to increase supply, limits on speculation and investments in coop and social housing vote for whichever candidate is most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
You should vote NDP or Green if your primary policy preference is for ending exclusionary zoning.
Resources and Groups and Individuals to Follow:
More Neighhours Toronto believes that the key to bringing down housing costs and preventing sprawl is to increase densities and welcome more neighbours into the City of Toronto.
Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario provides policy analysis on rental housing and information and support for renters.
Mike Moffat is an economist who has been writing and speaking extensively about Ontario’s housing market in recent years.
More Cooperative Housing Collective is a small grassroots group advocating for more coop housing.
This piece by Brian Doucet offers a good look at what was and wasn’t recommended in the Task Force’s report.