One of the great things about Canada is that each new generation has had a better shot than the last at owning a home — until now. Like other parts of Canada, Ontario is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. Home ownership rates are on the decline, especially among young families, and people are losing hope.
For policy-makers, the urgency of this problem cannot be overstated. In other developed nations, years of inaction on housing affordability has led to social instability. In the GTA, research has shown Ontario’s housing crisis to be a huge drag on the economy, costing between six to eight billion dollars annually.
In fact, half of Ontarians 45 years of age and younger have considered moving to other provinces just to afford a home. If the next generation of Ontario’s entrepreneurs, skilled workers and brightest minds leave this province, the impending brain drain will be hugely problematic for Ontario’s economic prosperity and competitiveness.
When it comes to housing, Ontario is at a watershed moment in its history: the decisions that get made today will determine whether our kids have a fair shot at the Canadian dream of home ownership.
We need bold action to get more homes on the market fast. That action begins with pro-growth policies that could bring affordability closer to first-time home buyers and address the supply shortage. Ontario has an opportunity to be trailblazers on this front in Canada, beginning with eliminating exclusionary zoning in growing cities.
New Zealand, a country with its own affordability crisis, did just that in late October. New Zealand’s government introduced new zoning rules that will allow property owners to build up to three homes on a single-family lot in the country’s five largest cities. In short, they banned exclusionary single-family zoning in favour of gentle density rules that will build more missing middle housing for growing families and seniors looking to downsize.
In high demand, urban Ontario neighbourhoods, it is currently illegal to convert a single-family home into a townhome, duplex, triplex or fourplex without a zoning bylaw change. But, if you want to tear down that same wartime bungalow to build a multi-story mansion? No problem. You’re free to do that without restrictions.
Our zoning rules give priority to mansions for millionaires over affordable homes for aspiring middle-class families. That needs to change.
Rolling back exclusionary zoning will restrain the runaway politics that stonewall any effort to bring affordable homes to the market.
Municipalities have the autonomy to modernize these archaic laws, but in order to encourage the levels of new supply Ontario needs, an amendment to the government of Ontario’s Planning Act to allow for as-of-right zoning in our province’s highest demand neighbourhoods is necessary. This policy change is likely to have the greatest impact in unlocking more affordable homes in urban areas, especially in neighbourhoods that are within 500 metres to a kilometre of a transit station or next to existing density.
This broad approach will increase supply and affordability, without disrupting or massively changing the character of local neighbourhoods.
Here in Ontario, we cannot grow south into Lake Ontario or north into the Greenbelt, so we need to use the space in between as efficiently as possible to create more homes and give more choice to Ontarians. Holding back the building of more homes in our cities will only ensure that more and more young families are clogging up our roads on lengthy commutes as they drive until they qualify to afford a new home.
We are smack in the middle of a housing affordability crisis. It’s time for bold change that will support the Canadian dream and ensure we are building the kinds of homes Ontario’s families want and need. Getting rid of exclusionary zoning will help keep Ontario’s next generation home, in the communities that raised them, bringing that dream of ownership back into reach for families.