The housing crisis in Canada has hit Peterborough hard — demand and prices have gone through the roof.
We need more homes of all types. For this week’s column, we’re taking a look at some of the proposed solutions for getting more built and making it easier for people to buy them.
Taking the politics out of site plans
The Province is looking to have municipalities delegate site plan approvals to staff rather than requiring council decisions. To get to the point where a site plan is up for approval, a development must meet the terms set out in the official plan or have an amendment that is approved by council. Council still has a say regarding the zoning, which sets out the rules for uses for the property and the size of buildings. Site plans are focused on the actual final layout of the development, including entrances, parking, and grading.
Set deadlines for approvals
The Province is planning to add aggressive deadlines for getting development applications approved. Faster approvals will equal more homes being built, but it’s a two-way street. In a report to council, Interim Commissioner of Infrastructure and Planning Services Michael Papadacos notes that some of the delays are attributed to developers, consultants, and external agencies. Staff often have to go back and forth with applicants to get all of the necessary information. It’s going to take a concerted effort from all involved to speed up the application process.
Subdivisions take a lot of work to plan out. They need water and sewer service to their location, upgraded roads, and electricity grid expansion. These greenfield developments will always have a place in our growth, but infilling and redevelopment offer more opportunities to add additional housing without as much new infrastructure. However, redevelopment has other hurdles in terms of zoning, fire code, accessibility, modern building codes, flood plains, and architectural heritage. Infilling has a positive community impact as it gets more people closer to the amenities already available.
To make it easier and quicker to redevelop existing properties, municipalities can get a head start on issues like zoning and heritage priorities so developers know what they are getting into. We’re also calling on the Province to work with property owners to find solutions to converting old buildings to modern fire, building and accessibility codes.
Modernizing the HST threshold
The Ontario Home Builders Association us advocating for province to increase the threshold for charging HST to buyers of new homes from $400,000 to $600,000. The program is a decade old and doesn’t reflect the current price of new homes. Increasing the HST threshold to $600,000 would increase the rebate to home buyers by $12,000 to $36,000.
Pay-on-Demand Surety Bonds
Municipalities require assurance that the necessary site improvements will be constructed in a timely manner and as designed when approving a development like subdivisions and site plans. This assurance typically requires a Letter of Credit from a bank, using up a large amount of credit capacity builders have available to them. This means that builders who might have the capacity otherwise to carryout a series of projects at once are unable to do so.
The Ontario Home Builders Association is advocating for Pay-on-Demand Surety Bonds as an alternative. These can provide municipalities with the same level of financial security while not restricting a builder’s credit capacity, enabling them to build more homes, dramatically increasing housing supply available to buyers.
Supply chain and inflation
Even with an approval and financing in place, building more homes has other challenges. Supply chain and inflation issues have hit most Canadians in various ways. Even with an approval, getting the supplies and tools needed to build more homes is a challenge. Investments in core supply chain infrastructure is critical to the success of our plans for aggressive home construction and redevelopment.
Inflation has added an additional challenge in quoting a build and planning future developments. Both material and labour costs are on the rise. For projects that take years to plan and build, this challenge adds more risk and uncertainty. It also limits a developers’ ability to take on more ambitious projects as they weigh the risk of overextending themselves due to unpredictable rising costs.
Ontario was facing a shortage of skilled trades workers prior to the pandemic and housing crisis. Many builders are making due with less, but that limits the amount and speed they can build. Our post-secondary institutions have been busy creating more trades opportunities and the government has increased its messaging in promoting young people into the trades, but the current skilled worker shortage is holding back home development.
It's going to require a multifaceted approach to solving our housing crisis. It’s going to take a concerted effort from all levels of government, builders, lenders, and educational institutions. In our efforts to build more homes, we also need to be careful not to push aside the community consultation process. We need to make sure we’re building toward a sustainable, affordable future that builds a community that is not only bigger, but stronger.