Province urged to loosen zoning rules around transit hubs
Ontario’s realtors and home builders say the province could address a housing supply crunch if it allowed a greater range of developments around 200 transit hubs. The associations that represent these parties are calling on the provincial government to change zoning rules around the transit stations. By permitting different uses of the space around and above transit hubs and lifting a regulatory burden that limits so-called “transit-oriented development” would create thousands of new homes per year, according to their projections.
Currently, planning powers over these hubs rest with local municipalities, which sometimes prevent multi-storey or townhouse developments, said Ontario Real Estate Association CEO Tim Hudak.
“NIMBY-ism is a powerful force, and outdated zoning laws from the pre-disco era … has meant that a lot of millennials who should be in the home ownership market find themselves shut out,” he said.
Hudak also mentioned that a change could allow developments that create homes for first-time buyers, as well as empty-nesters looking to sell their family homes and move to something smaller.
A study, commissioned by the groups and completed by Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, said that by re-zoning the corridors more than 20,000 affordable homes could be created in the province each year.
"Based on the province’s own population growth projections, Ontario will need 1.8 million additional new homes over the next 24 years, or 75,000 new homes per year in that time."
The study was commissioned as part of both groups’ submissions to the Ontario government’s consultations on provincial housing supply.
The report says more than 1,500 square kilometres of viable land exists around the province’s transit hubs, but only 154 square kilometres has been re-zoned to support higher density projects.
Hudak said municipalities have failed to properly develop the transit hubs and the province must step in.
“It doesn’t make any sense to put billions of taxpayers’ dollars under the ground and then have only one- or two-storey developments above them,” he said.
Hudak acknowledged there will be concerns about local resident voices being overridden by Queen’s Park, but he said the province must take a broader view of the housing supply issue.
“Local councillors will almost always defer to existing residents instead of thinking about the residents who want to move into their community,” he said. “Only the provincial level has the capacity to mandate this.”
Source: The Canadian Press
A new push for housing density
At community meetings to discuss new developments it’s common to hear the term “density” applied to housing construction with the disdain of a four-letter word. This, even though most will agree there is an affordability crisis and that one of the ways to address it is to find ways to build more supply.
Often, the political argument over density is framed as a choice between the starkest possible housing options: Either it’s all high-rise towers everywhere or it’s all low-rise single-family everywhere, as if there are only two ways to build cities: tall or sprawl.
Last week, the new mayor of Burlington, Ont., fulfilled a campaign pledge of turning away from tall and slowing down development in the city, freezing for one year all approval work on high-rise developments proposed in the downtown core of the city of 183,000.
“Burlington residents have consistently raised concerns about over-intensification and development in our city,” Mayor Marianne Meed Ward told reporters following her election in 2018.
But density does not have to equal towers, and according to new research by Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development all the growth in housing construction the province needs to support both population growth and affordability goals could be met by rezoning areas near transit to support “gentle density,” missing-middle projects.
There are many neighbourhoods in Ontario that explicitly reject any density higher than single-family. In Toronto, this has become known as the "yellow belt” – an area about 297 square kilometres (or two-thirds of all of Toronto’s residential land) that restricts housing types to detached or semi-detached. No triplexes, no quads, no townhouses or six-storey apartments without a rezoning approval.
No-density zones also distort the local land market, leading developers to focus on small pockets that are filled with towers. Eglinton and Yonge or King West stand out as examples of a tower rush.
“Right now we’re getting a lot more density than we currently need, but all the city has done is pushed density into small pockets. You’re not getting a lot of missing middle,” said Diana Petramala, senior researcher with Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Research and co-author of the transit nodes report. Ms. Petramala’s research has shown that missing-middle housing has gone from 40 per cent of the new housing stock that was created pre-1946, to less than 15 per cent of new housing since 2006. “There’s a lot of fear in terms of density, and there are there are negative externalities” she acknowledges, such as when explosions in density overwhelm local infrastructure.
Ms. Petramala said that even if towers were banned in the transit nodes the report identifies and new multi-unit housing was restricted to four storeys tall, a mass rezoning would still generate plenty of new housing. Over the past three years in non-rezoned areas about 13 housing units per year have been created; by comparison, rezoned areas see twice the volume of housing creation. The report projects rezoning the entire transit node area could allow the creation of 25 housing units per square kilometre, or an extra 20,000 homes a year.
Just that sort of smaller-scale “missing middle” development is what Leith Moore, co-founder of R-Hauz Solutions Inc., is poised to start delivering to Toronto, and, if all goes well, to the rest of Canada.
Whether you believe that “more supply” is automatically good for affordability there are other economic goods to consider.
"The Ryerson report says adding density to those transit nodes would add an extra $5-billion to $7-billion in construction expenditures, create more than 40,000 jobs and lift the Ontario economy by as much as $10-billion, or 1 per cent."
Source: The Globe and Mail
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