2 Articles – Housing: Ontario Adding More “Strong Mayors” Creating $1.2B In Housing Incentive Funds (corrected story) and Housing Crisis To Take Centre Stage At Liberal Cabinet Retreat In Charlottetown (this weekend)

Ontario Adding More “Strong Mayors” Creating $1.2B In Housing Incentive Funds (corrected story)

This is a corrected story. A previous version said Ford was expanding strong mayor powers to 50 communities. In fact, while he has assigned housing targets to 50 municipalities, Newmarket has refused to commit to its target and the mayor has therefore not been given strong mayor powers.

Courtesy of Barrie360.com and Canadian PressPublished: Aug 21st, 2023

By Allison Jones

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expanding so-called strong mayor powers to a total of 49 communities across the province and is offering $1.2 billion in incentives for cities and towns to meet housing targets.

Ford’s announcement Monday, in a speech at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s conference, comes as the province’s housing starts are well below what’s needed to hit the premier’s target of building 1.5 million homes by 2031. 

A sharp rise in population growth is also adding pressure on the province to build, and has been cited by Ford in defence of his controversial move to open up land in protected Greenbelt areas for housing development.

“Failing to act would worsen the housing supply affordability crisis,” Ford said Monday in announcing the new fund and strong mayor powers. 

“Failing to act would hurt everyone in Ontario by driving up the cost of goods and services, and by hampering new job creation and investments. Failing to act would threaten to erode Canadians’ unwavering support for immigration at a time when our economic success depends on welcoming skilled newcomers to fill critical labour gaps.”

Strong mayor powers – which include allowing mayors to propose housing-related bylaws and pass them with the support of one-third of councillors, as well as override council approval of certain bylaws and prepare their city’s budget, instead of council – have been decried by critics as undemocratic. 

The latest expansion involves municipalities with populations projected to exceed 50,000 by 2031, such as Aurora, Welland and North Bay, and will put the total number of strong mayors at 49 when the new ones come into effect Oct. 31. 

The province had earlier given strong mayor powers to the heads of 28 cities, though several of those mayors say they do not intend to use them.

Ford had previously assigned housing targets to 29 cities, but Newmarket has refused to commit to its target, so it has been left off the list of strong mayors. Newmarket Mayor John Taylor has said he couldn’t commit to the province’s target of 12,000 new homes for his municipality because Newmarket doesn’t currently have the sewage capacity to serve more than a couple thousand more homes.

Monday’s 21 new additions to the strong mayor list will have to agree to their housing targets in order to get the new powers.

Ford said conferring targets on those communities will see them qualify for the new three-year, $1.2-billion Building Faster Fund.

It will be open to municipalities that meet at least 80 per cent of their housing target, and could dole out bonuses to communities that exceed their target, Ford said.

Ten per cent of the fund is being reserved for small, rural and northern communities that don’t have assigned housing targets.

The exact parameters of what the money could be spent on still needs to be worked out, Ford said, but it’s intended to go toward housing-enabling infrastructure and other projects that support community growth, such as roads and water lines. 

Municipalities have been raising concerns about a provincial law that cuts some of the fees developers pay, which the communities use to fund such infrastructure. 

Colin Best, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said municipalities welcome the new funding but will need at least $1 billion annually to address that shortfall in housing-related infrastructure funding created by the provincial law.

“To meet the province’s target of building 1.5 million new homes by 2031, municipalities need to invest in infrastructure such as water and wastewater, roads, parks, emergency services and more,” Best wrote in a statement.

“Ontario municipalities estimate that additional funding of at least $1 billion annually will be needed to address the shortfall created by changes to the Development Charges Act.”

NDP Leader Marit Stiles said in a speech to the AMO conference that the new, three-year program “does not come close” to replacing the revenue municipalities will lose due to the provincial cuts to developer fees.

“It’s more than a little backwards to effectively punish municipalities for not building housing when they don’t have the funding or the provincial partner they need to do so,” she said.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark launched audits of six select municipalities in the wake of those concerns, and has said the province will make municipalities “whole” if the law leaves them unable to pay for housing-related infrastructure.

Clark has suggested in a letter to AMO that offsetting a loss of municipal development charge revenue will be contingent on the communities meeting their housing targets, but many municipalities have expressed concern that there is only so much control they have over the number of housing units that get built.

“If we issue permits and approvals, but the shovels don’t get in the ground because of high interest rates, supply chain, labour matters, unfavourable federal policy, other taxes and fees and other levels of government, then we’re not that much further ahead,” Marianne Meed Ward, mayor of Burlington, Ont., and chair of the big city mayors group said recently.

Housing Crisis To Take Centre Stage At Liberal Cabinet Retreat In Charlottetown

Courtesy of Barrie360.com and Canadian PressPublished: Aug 21st, 2023

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to deliver a new mission for his cabinet at a three−day retreat in Charlottetown this week, in a bid to restore Canadians’ sense of economic security and their confidence in his government. 

It is a very different cabinet from the one that last sat in the House of Commons, following a major shuffle in July. Seven of the 38 ministers were replaced entirely and 19 were given new files.

The housing affordability crisis will take on new levels of importance for the government, with a specific focus on younger Canadians whose early adult years have been dominated by the disruptions of COVID−19 and whose dream of even being able to afford to rent their own home is marred by rising costs.

No big policy announcements are expected following the retreat, but ministers will be briefed by national experts on housing and youth with a view to guiding federal decision−making this fall.

Those decisions could include negotiating a national housing accord. Such a pact would bring all levels of government to the table, along with both not−for−profit and for−profit housing agencies, to build the estimated 5.8 million new homes Canada needs to restore affordability to the housing market by 2030.

The retreat comes as the Liberals’ poll numbers continue to sink. 

A cranky electorate left exhausted by the COVID−19 pandemic and its high−inflation aftermath is finding more appeal in the message from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre that under the Liberals, everything in Canada has been broken.

“They’ve enabled the space for the Poilievre narrative, and I think it has taken hold in a few pockets. And I think they need to punch back,” said Susan Smith, a Liberal strategist and co−founder of Bluesky Strategy Group.

She said the government has to address the fact that the dynamic around Canada’s economic situation has changed since the Liberals first came to office.

“The economic reality has shifted dramatically,” she said.

Recent polls are showing the Conservatives have enough support that they are flirting on the edge of majority government territory, though an election is not imminent.

The Liberals have an agreement with the NDP to try to keep the minority Parliament working until 2025. While it may not last that long, there is no suggestion it will collapse in the next few months.

Particularly worrisome for the Liberals is their slip in support among younger Canadians. 

That cohort voted in almost record numbers when Trudeau and the Liberals romped to a majority government victory in 2015, but it has been drifting further and further away from them in recent years.

An online survey by Leger at the end of July had the Liberals trailing the Conservatives by six percentage points overall, but by more than 10 points among 18− to 34−year−olds.

“The people who were the 18−year−old voters for the Liberals in 2015 right now may have young families or may be now entering the workforce, so definitely housing is an issue,” said Smith, although she noted that housing is an issue affecting many different age groups.

While housing is an issue that crosses municipal, provincial and federal jurisdiction, Poilievre has been laying the blame for Canada’s housing inequality at Trudeau’s feet. 

In a video posted online last week, Poilievre said wage growth has not kept pace with housing prices since Trudeau took office.

“The math does not add up,” he said.

Statistics Canada data show average weekly earnings across the country rose about 26 per cent since 2015, while the average purchase price of a home rose by more than 70 per cent.

Paul Kershaw, founder and lead researcher at the Generation Squeeze think tank at the University of British Columbia, has been asked to address the Liberal cabinet about ways to solve the economic despair many young people are feeling.

Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, and Mike Moffatt, an economist and housing expert and founding director of the PLACE Centre at the Smart Prosperity Institute, are set to brief the cabinet on the housing issue specifically.

The two were among the three co−authors of a recent national report on housing. A senior Liberal source who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet made public says the report is going to be a bit of a “task list” for the government on housing.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for a national housing industrial strategy in concert with other levels of government and the private and non−profit sectors. It would set targets for housing and push for better data and research on population growth and housing needs.

The report also calls for housing production needs, like construction expertise, to be included in immigration and workforce planning, as well as for the elimination of federal sales taxes on the construction of new, purpose−built rental housing.

Moffatt said in an interview that his message to cabinet will mimic the recommendations in the report, and he sees the invitation to speak at the retreat as a “positive sign” they plan to follow through this time.

“I would think that if they didn’t care what we said, they wouldn’t want us out there talking to cabinet,” he said.

The Liberal official said housing will be a critical part of the government’s immediate policy planning, but that the overall messaging goes beyond housing.

He said the prime minister will repeat the message he gave ministers following the shuffle in July: At the end of every day, they should be able to explain what they did that day that made someone’s life better.

Patricia Dent

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