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FORUM: Bill 23 is the province’s Big Lie (Dec. 2022)

December 13th, 2022 · No Comments

Residents’ associations come together to condemn move

By the HVRA and the ARA

Bill 23, the provincial government’s promise to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 is nothing short of an early Christmas gift to developers.

There’s no guarantee homes will be built, there’s nothing to ensure they will be affordable, and there’s no help for renters.

Here’s what Doug Ford delivered on his pre-Christmas sleigh to his developer buddies:

  • the right to evict existing tenants with no obligation to take them back 
  • the right to demolish buildings that are listed heritage unless the city designates them
  • the sole right to appeal planning decisions 
  • relief from $200 million in city charges that currently ensure new residents have basics like sewer, water and parking spaces 
  • a pass on making new buildings energy efficient which means Toronto won’t meet its climate change emergency targets

The province has even expanded the boundaries of some cities to allow for building and given a green light to pave over parts of the Greenbelt, an area the size of the City of Guelph.

Little wonder radio ads from the development industry are exultant. In return for this grab bag of blessings, developers are not required to deliver on anything.

They now say they will start building to serve newcomers and give people hope. Which newcomers and what hope? Without built-in social services and communities to support adjusting to Canadian life, this bill is promoting ghettos in the sprawl, serving only prosperous Canadians and rich immigrants who can afford their own transportation. 

It’s scattershot legislation designed to rid the development industry of the perceived notion of price penalties, land frustrations, meddling neighbours, and interfering bureaucrats.

Last year in Toronto, the city reported 17,000 rental units built, with a further need for 40,000, including 18,000 deeply affordable. In the first six months of 2022, 1,436 rental units were started.

Where is the requirement that any of the proposed housing be rental, affordable, or deeply affordable? This is the housing that is required for students, low-income and fixed-income tenants, newcomers, and residents on the street.

The 2021 census showed that renters make up 48.1 per cent of the population of Toronto. According to Bullpen Research, average rents have increased by 27 per cent in the last year. A CBC home financial columnist tells her clients that the income needed to carry the average $2,474 rent on one-bedroom units in the open market in Toronto would now be more than $120,000. For cheaper accommodation, the Nov. 6, website listed 15 units available between Dufferin Grove and Leslieville under $1500, and one at 230 square feet for $1475.

Until now, Toronto bylaws guaranteed that tenants displaced by development would receive a subsidy from landlords during construction and that they would have the right to return to the new building to a unit of the same size for the same rent. 

A few days ago, the minister of municipal affairs removed similar protections from the Ottawa official plan to allow developers to evict and leave tenants to the mercies of the overheated rental market. Toronto will not be far behind.

The 130 tenants who will be displaced if the 145 St. George St.  development is approved, will be hard-pressed to remain in Toronto, let alone return home once the new building is complete. This means Bill 23 will almost certainly reduce the lower income renter population—at least in the parts of the city of interest to developers. We will lose our residents. They will lose their homes, their communities, and us.

The bill further diminishes the capacity to create affordable rentals in new buildings even though cities can pass bylaws to create such housing. The changes in the city cannot require more than 5 per cent of affordable units in those areas. By comparison, the Mirvish Village development, which has become the poster child for progressive city building, has set aside 40 per cent of its 916 units as affordable, with contributions from the developer and CMHC. 

The bill also acts on the chronic but unproved complaint that zoning appeals have stood in the way of development; however, the Ontario Land Tribunal reports that its caseload is down 50 per cent over the last four years, and that a minority of appeals were launched by individuals. 

Where is the justification for taking away the rights of the public or interest groups to appeal when there are tens of thousands of units ready to be built? 

Between 2016 and 2020, 140,848 residential units were approved but only 76,513 built—a completion rate of 54 per cent. Close to 600 units between 316 Bloor St. West and the Just Desserts site at 306-326 Davenport are stalled. 

Three years later, the existing house form building at Just Desserts has been demolished and replaced by a surface parking lot. Are developers banking permissions and playing the market for better gains?

The province does not put up a dime to build the housing it says it wants. 

Instead, it has put existing Toronto taxpayers on the hook for $200 million in lost revenue—fees that were charged to developers to pay for necessary upgrades to vital services like subways, water and sewage for new residents. 

Likewise, parks and other infrastructure for the benefit of new and existing residents are now up to local taxpayers to finance. The only added rental in the amalgamated cities of Toronto from Bill 23 will be in scattered basement units and granny suites—and those will be up to individual property owners to finance.

Finally, 3,973 buildings in Toronto have heritage listing status which protects them from demolition for 90 days to allow time for Heritage Preservation Services to decide whether a time-consuming and exhaustive full heritage designation is warranted. 

Under new rules, unless the city designates the property as a heritage site, present listings would expire in two years and the affected property would be exempt from heritage consideration for the next five years.

This bombshell of changes to planning and heritage was brought down without any hint or signal to the provincial electorate who voted only five months ago. It was introduced the day after a municipal election (instead of during the election when these ideas would have been hotly debated) and at a time when new councillors were still trying to find their new offices. 

Bill 23 is an avalanche of random change. It is incoherent, seemingly vengeful, autocratic, and tailor-made for a single sector that does piecemeal violence to coherent city plans that have emerged after years of consultation; it rips asunder the democratic process.

We all agree sensibly-priced housing of all kinds is an urgent need. Our priorities are simple: we need to plan cities in considered ways and protect our most vulnerable.

The province needs to put money in the game and build the rental housing we need. There should be a full-scale public consultation process before Bill 23 becomes law.    

Jointly submitted by Henry Wiercinski, vice chair, Annex Residents’ Association and Sue Dexter, board member, Harbord Village Residents’ Association. 

Tags: Annex · Opinion