Ontario throne speech ignores housing affordability
Ontario’s new government gave us a glimpse of its priorities for the coming year in Thursday's throne speech. For all of Premier Doug Ford’s promises to make life more affordable for Ontarians on the campaign trail, the speech included no mention of a key contributor to rising living costs—housing.
In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), home prices are 50 per cent higher than they were during Ontario’s last election (June 2014). This has certainly benefited some homeowners, but has also hurt potential homebuyers and growing businesses whose ability to attract workers is limited by the high cost of buying or renting.
At its heart, the affordability conundrum is the result of a lagging housing supply. Growing cities such as Toronto and its suburbs must respond to strong demand by building more homes. If they don’t, the price of existing homes rises.
Unfortunately, the Ford government’s throne speech did nothing to address the need for more housing supply. In fact, it didn’t mention housing affordability at all.
But the affordability issue remains, and unless cities allow the construction of significantly more housing units than they currently do, it won’t go away on its own.
Thankfully, there’s a growing number of public policy examples Queen’s Park can follow to help Ontario’s cities enable the timely construction of more homes.
South of the border, state governments in Massachusetts, Oregon and California have all considered or passed legislation aimed at reforming zoning and land-use regulations allowing more homes to be built within existing neighbourhoods with less red tape, lower costs and in less time.
A lot can be said about these approaches, but a key similarity between them is the recognition that cities in these states—like Ontario’s largest cities—face tremendous pressure to grow. And red tape at city hall slows the ability of homebuilders to respond to these pressures. By removing or simplifying key regulatory barriers to homebuilding (such as onerous zoning bylaws), a responsive housing supply can go a long way to improve affordability in these high-demand cities.
It’s still early days for the Ford government, which certainly discussed a host of other issues in its maiden throne speech. One can only hope, therefore, that housing affordability will soon join the growing list of priorities Ontarians expect their government to tackle.