An omnibus housing bill tabled by the province this week might have broader implications for some municipalities, but Greater Sudbury already adheres to much of it.
Applying the balance of the proposed legislation wouldn’t be much of a stretch, city director of planning services Kris Longston told Sudbury.com upon reviewing the 78-page Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022.
The city might need to do some “minor tweaking” with its bylaws, but Longston said the city’s pretty much on track to adhere to the proposed legislation should it be ratified.
“Fundamentally, what the province is trying to do with secondary units and development charges is something that we’re already doing, and have been for the last few years,” he said.
“There are some minor adjustments we’ll have to make to our zoning bylaw, to our development charge bylaw, but principally we’re already doing a lot of the things being contemplated in this bill.”
Bill 23 is intended to help usher in the province’s next phase toward getting 1.5 million homes built in the next 10 years and would mandate municipalities to get on board with a number of key steps.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark tabled the bill this week, and during a Wednesday debate at Queen’s Park said the province faces a clear challenge: “We need to build more homes and we need to build them faster.”
“If passed, our proposed changes would help reduce unnecessary burdens and red tape that are delaying construction and driving up the cost of a home even higher,” he said in Queen’s Park.
Although the proposed legislation carries numerous provisions, a key goal will be updating the Planning Act to fast-track building up to three units on most lots already zoned as residential. This would apply throughout the province and speed up the creation of basement apartments and garden suites.
The City of Greater Sudbury has already done this, Longston said, noting that secondary units were allowed within residential buildings by 2018, and in 2020 the city opened it to allow three units per property, with the third appearing as part of a detached garage or standalone structure.
The legislation is a bit more ambiguous as to where the two secondary units can be located, but Longston said a little tweaking of current bylaws will allow the city to adhere to whatever it is the province decides in the event Bill 23 is ratified.
Bill 23 also proposes eliminating development charges for secondary suites, which Greater Sudbury does not charge, and eliminating development charges from non-profit housing developments. Greater Sudbury offers development fee exemptions for affordable housing.
As for the province’s push toward infill developments and enabling greater density, Longston said the city’s Official Plan encourages development within a serviced boundary, and the city’s nodes and corridors program slashes multi-unit residential development fees in half within these areas.
Bill 23 also pushes for a requirement of no more than one parking space for certain residential properties, which Greater Sudbury city council approved last year.
The proposed legislation’s maximum parkland dedication rate of 15 per cent of the land (or its value) for sizes greater than five hectares, and a maximum of 10 per cent for smaller properties, both fall below Greater Sudbury’s current five-per-cent requirement.
There are various other components to the legislation, but Longston said that aside from some minor changes, Greater Sudbury is “already there.”
Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, served as chair of the city’s planning committee for the past two years and who recently lost his seat in the Oct. 24 municipal election, and agreed that the proposed legislation might speed up some residential development.
The province’s push to eliminate “red tape” is good to hear, Kirwan said, noting that although the city gets the lion’s share of blame for holding up development, difficulty adhering to provincial regulations is often where projects get held up.
One barrier the city currently faces has to do with the number of housing developments that have been sitting on the books for years, and in some cases decades, and have been continually extended by city council.
The city’s planning committee has taken to warning developers that their latest extension would be the last, and that if they don’t build within the timeframe allowed they will have to resubmit.
Despite these proposed developments chipping away at the city’s available land stock, Longston said there’s still sufficient land to feed the demand for housing and there’s no justification to expand the city’s development boundaries.
Housing has been established as a priority for the planning committee, which Kirwan said he’d like to see the newly elected city council proceed with. Kirwan was defeated in the Oct. 24 civic election but remains an elected official until the new batch is formally sworn in on Nov. 17.
It’s unclear when, or if, the proposed legislation will be ratified, but Kirwan said it’s likely to spark some debate. As soon as the province indicated they were bypassing municipal governments, he said they were “asking for trouble.”
Although Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West said any legislation that spurs the creation of new housing in today’s marketplace is a good thing, Bill 23 falls short when it comes to affordable housing.
The term it uses instead is the more subjective “attainable,” which he said doesn’t do anything for Ontarians with fixed incomes who may be at risk of losing their housing.
“Simply saying we’re going to let developers build houses and we don’t care what kind, isn’t the solution,” he said, adding that developers are profit-driven and will naturally prioritize the construction of more expensive homes because that’s where the money is.
Bill 23, he said, is really “for developers to make more money.”
As described at Queen’s Park and within the legislation itself, the province has proposed the following actions in accordance with Bill 23, or alongside its implementation:
- Encourage municipalities to update their zoning and enable more gentle density in residential areas.
- Remove site plan requirements from most projects that are under 10 units, which would “reduce the stacks of approvals sitting on desks at city halls and speed things up for all housing proposals, all while reducing construction costs.”
- Build on surplus government properties and build new transit.
- Consult on ways to enable rent-to-own arrangements, such as an alternative home financing model.
- Give clear housing targets to municipalities and ask them to pledge to fill the gap over the next 10 years.
- Update the Planning Act to fast-track building up to three units on most lots already zoned as residential. This would apply throughout the province and speed up the creation of basement apartments and garden suites.
- Ensure municipalities do not impose development charges, parkland dedication fees or cash-in-lieu requirements for the creation of these new units.
- Non-profit housing developments would be relieved from paying development charges and parkland dedication fees. Rental construction would be discounted for home builders, with deeper discounts for family-sized units.
- Currently, municipalities must hold a public meeting for every draft plan of a subdivision. The new legislation would make this meeting optional.
- Reduce maximum parkland dedication requirements for higher-density developments by 50 per cent and putting in a tiered maximum parkland rate of 15 per cent of the land or its value for sizes greater than five hectares. For sites smaller than five hectares, the parkland rate would be 10 per cent.
- Recruit more Ontario Land Tribunal adjudicators and staff to resolve disputes faster. They would also place a limit on appeals from individuals and community groups that would “further hinder the progress of official plan amendments and zoning bylaw amendments.”
- Requiring no more than one parking space per unit at multi-residential buildings.
Sudbury.com reached out to Mayor Brian Bigger and mayor-elected Paul Lefebvre for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
A provincial spokesperson responded to Sudbury.com's inquiry after this story was originally published. In the written statement they provided, it's noted that nearly 80 per cent of the province's anticipated population growth to 2031 is concentrated in 29 municipalities, of which 25 are in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area. All 29 municipalities have been assigned a municipal housing target. The City of Toronto, for example, has a target of 285,000. Greater Sudbury is not one of the 29 municipalities listed.*
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.
*Editor's note: This paragraph was added after the story was originally published.