COVID Update: The Sixth Wave

I had naively supposed that provincial planning rules couldn't tilt any further in favour of developers and against communities or the people who can't afford to live in them. This week they did.


Already, changes from 2019 removed the City's ability to reject developments that don't follow its planning rules, substituting the decision of the provincially-appointed Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). This change, combined with the appointment of pro-development tribunal members, has created a place where developers always get their way.


These earlier changes were accompanied by a drastic reduction in the amount developers in Willowdale contribute towards the construction of facilities such as child care centres to serve the increased population. Now the Province is also cutting the amount of parkland developers with large Yonge St. sites must contribute.


More far reaching is this week's new requirement that the City give developers their fees back if it doesn't make a final decision on their applications within artificially short timelines. Because the City needs the fees to pay its planners, and because it takes much less time to refuse an application than to work through its intricacies and try to incorporate community concerns, Toronto will be left with little choice but to quickly refuse any controversial files. This, in turn, will send all those applications to the OLT.


Should you care? Only if you believe the mayor and councillor you elect should have some control over what can be built in your neighbourhood. Or if you hold the old-fashioned view that, when you chose a place to live, you should be able to rely on the city's planning rules to tell you what someone is allowed to build across the street.


If you don't like how this plays out, you will have nowhere to turn – not to City Council whose decision-making powers have been usurped, and not to the OLT which won't hear from residents who don't have the tens of thousands of dollars needed to hire professional witnesses and become a "party" to the hearing.


These changes are again portrayed as something that will create more housing affordability, deliberately confusing housing supply with housing affordability.


Some would argue that, if developers can build as much as they want, this will encourage them to build more, and that increased supply will lower prices.


That theory, unfortunately, doesn't hold true in real life. If it did, there would have been a price reduction on the Bayview development which successfully went to the OLT for extra storeys while already under construction. And you wouldn't have multiple developers sit on their approvals, postponing construction until units can fetch the highest profit.


But the Wild West the Province has created mostly rewards the gunslingers who bid up properties, seek higher densities and then flip them. A prime site at Finch and Grantbrook has changed hands several times recently, with each owner paying successively more than the planning rules would dictate they're worth and relying on the OLT to bail them out.


The profit that came out of each transaction went to someone who didn't build anything but certainly did inflate the land's cost which, whenever somebody actually does build on it, will be passed on to home purchasers.


If any of this was about making housing more affordable, the Province could, of course, have imposed a tax on domestic speculators in addition to the foreign ones. Or brought in rules so that development approvals are forfeited if nothing gets built within reasonable timelines.


I dedicate the Song of the Week to those who increase the price of housing but don't build anything.


-John

By Markus O'Brien Fehr Chief of Staff A reader recently responded to John's newsletter with an excellent question: "What's going on with the reconstruction of Yonge Street?" It's true that there hasn'