Housing FAQ

November 21, 2023

Understanding Ontario’s Housing Crisis

Frequently Asked Questions  

A PDF Version is available here.

Want more details? Check our our long version here.

The housing crisis is all over the news. Yet most people, including key decision makers, would be hard pressed to explain its causes, who can solve it, and how.

This FAQ is designed to help provide a better understanding of the housing crisis and the potential options available to help solve it. It is written by the Alliance for a Liveable Ontario, a network of stakeholder groups who share a common interest in building a province that includes access to affordable housing for all. A longer version is available at liveableontario.ca.

Key Takeaways about the Housing Crisis

-There are many causes of the housing crisis. A lack of available land is NOT one of them. Opening up farmland and natural areas to development, dismantling Ontario’s planning and environmental laws won’t solve the housing crisis.  

-We need to identify what type of housing units people need and can afford and get them built quickly. Building more single-detached homes on farmland, forests and wetlands and limiting the bulk of multi-family residential construction to concentrated pockets of high-rise buildings filled with small sized market rental units won’t solve the housing crisis. In fact, it will make it worse by diverting labour, construction materials and investment away from building the more diverse, efficient and affordable housing types we really require.

-Governments need to once again become actively involved in financing and in many cases, managing and owning affordable rental housing for low-income households. It’s a pipe dream to assume that the private sector alone will build deeply affordable rental housing.

-Everyone needs to work together toward one goal — more affordable housing. Governments need to ensure planning rules support the housing types people need, at the prices they can afford and in the neighbourhoods they want to live in with the supports people need. This will help private and not-for-profit developers build the right housing. The current provincial planning rules, despite some recent progressive steps, are making this almost impossible to achieve. They need to change.

-The building industry needs to get shovels in the ground to build the compact and low cost infill housing units that are already planned and approved. The housing crisis will not be solved until more of these types of homes are built.

WHAT IS THE HOUSING CRISIS AND WHAT’S CAUSING IT?

People can’t find suitably sized homes where they want to live at a price they can afford. This applies equally to the ownership and rental markets.

While there is debate about what caused the housing crisis, there is no one cause. There are many, they are complex and they have been a long time in the making. They include global supply chain and labour constraints that throttle construction output and increase construction costs. They include government policies that discourage the building of the efficient and lower cost housing types we need in existing towns and cities with the services we need and encourage the building of inefficient and expensive housing types on farmland and natural areas. Other key causes are that governments are no longer building, supporting, and owning housing for low-income Ontarians, and that the building industry is not building enough affordable homes.

The housing crisis is NOT because of a lack of available land.

WHAT TYPES OF HOUSING ARE NEEDED?

Building more low-density homes on farmland and forests lands on the outskirts of towns and cities will not help solve the housing crisis. They aren’t affordable and are hard for people to get to. Even worse, encouraging low density greenfield development would make it harder to increase housing output because it would divert labour, construction materials and investment away from compact forms and infill locations that deliver more homes more quickly.

Evidence shows that building diverse housing types within existing towns and cities is key to  solving the housing crisis. This includes high rise buildings, but we also need more low, mid-rise and multi-unit buildings, plus additional units in existing/newly built homes and backyard/laneway suites. Planners call this gentle density.

Each community is different.  It is important for governments to understand the specific housing needs within their communities. For example, how much new rental housing is required? How many one, two or multi-bedroom units are needed? What kind or rents ensure they are affordable given local incomes? What sort of housing and support services are needed for Indigenous residents?

HOW MUCH HOUSING DO WE NEED AND IS THERE ENOUGH LAND ON WHICH TO BUILD THE HOUSING WE NEED?

Forecasts vary from one million to more than two million new homes by 2030 to accommodate new growth.  The province has assumed a target of 1.5 million by 2031.

Research shows there is more than enough land set aside to build all the housing we need, including these higher growth forecasts. We can build all the housing we need while protecting the environment and agricultural lands.

No matter what housing numbers are used, Ontario needs far more new homes every year than are being constructed now.

WHO HAS THE POWER TO GUIDE RESPONSES TO THE HOUSING CRISIS?

The federaland provincial governments are the key players. They set the rules throughtaxation and planning policies, and provide some direct funding for affordable housing projects.For the past 40 years, they have relied on the private sector to build nearly allof the housing and manage most of the rental units. Non-profits and co-ops havebuilt and manage some, mostly affordable units. Prior to the 1990s, governmentswere also involved in building, owning and managing deeply affordable housing,while federal tax laws spurred the bulk of our current rental supply.

 

Getting enough affordable housing built forOntario will only happen through cooperative actions. Everyone needs to worktogether — the federal and provincial governments, municipalities, theprivate sector, non-profits, cooperatives, and charitable agencies. The private sector will be the major player in thedelivery of market housing; it will also play a supporting role in the deliveryof affordable housing for low-income Ontarians.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS IN ONTARIO?

The housing crisis has spread from low-income Ontarians to others.

In February 2022, the province’s Housing Affordability Task Force released a report with 74 recommendations to address the affordable housing crisis in Ontario. It received mixed reviews.

In October 2022, the provincial government began releasing numerous policy and legislative changes under the guise of addressing the housing crisis. Many of these changes were not recommended by the Housing Affordability Task Force and will have little, if any, positive effect on the delivery of affordable housing in Ontario.

Some will make the housing crisis worse. The changes were based on a misrepresentation of the housing crisis. As a pretext for eliminating critical environmental and agricultural protections, the Ontario government falsely claimed they were the primary causes of the housing crisis. The changes also undermined important municipal planning policies and public participation rights that have had no adverse impact on housing.

Recently the province was forced, after revelations of improper government-developer relationships by the Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner and public opinion to pull back on some of these changes. The provincial government had to withdraw its planned land removals from the Greenbelt and its drive to force municipalities to add tens of thousands of acres for more housing. Land supply is not the issue.

Recent studies have shown that private sector developers already have approvals to build a large number of homes but are not building them at a rate required to deal with the housing crisis. It appears that key players in the private development sector keep choosing low volume and high prices over low prices and high volume. This leads to sprawl and houses that too many people can’t afford.

WHAT HAVE GOVERNMENTS BEEN DOING LATELY?

Despite the province’s misdiagnosis and missteps, over the past year all levels of government have started to recognize the need for greater involvement in solving our housing challenges. There seems to be an emerging consensus on what some of the real causes are, and governments have started taking important steps to address these, including:

-Reducing the financialization of housing (e.g., federal restriction on foreign purchases)

-Facilitating the construction of purpose-built rental units (e.g., waiving of HST and GST)

-Promoting affordable housing and supporting non-profits (e.g., increased use of public land for non-profits)

-Supporting gentle density/additional units (e.g., allowing all singles/semi-detached/townhouse units in urban areas to have three units as of right)

THESE ARE FIRST STEPS. WHAT ELSE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED?

Here are some options and actions available to governments:

-Strengthen tenant rights to keep units affordable

-Enhance requirements to replace existing affordable units lost through redevelopment

-Update and create municipal housing needs assessments

-Use taxation powers to make housing more affordable

-Create further programs to build social housing for low income Ontarians

-Create programs/tax frameworks to encourage the construction of purpose built rentals

-Ensure that provincial and municipal planning rules allow gentle density and discourage sprawl

-Strengthen policies to further reduce the financialization of housing

A longer version of this FAQ is available here.