As an industry, we strive to build complete communities where residents can live, work and play.
The goal is to create complete communities that are environmentally responsible, affordable and meet the housing needs of the 100,000 new residents which arrive in the GTA each year.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult to create thriving and sustainable communities because of a series of challenges that grow in enormity every year. Multi-layered government policies, complex regulatory frameworks and lengthy approval timelines, escalating land prices, constraints on land supply, and growing construction and labour costs are some of the factors that have a big impact on the industry’s ability to build complete communities that are affordable for today and for future generations.
Building sustainable complete communities was the focus of a recent debate held by BILD where a panel of industry experts came together to deliberate how realistic or idealistic it is to build them. Everyone agreed that it is possible but there are considerable challenges and it’s becoming harder to strive for.
All the participants stressed the importance of creating communities that are environmentally responsible. Components such as well-planned green spaces and innovative stormwater management help the industry build communities that are environmentally sustainable. The challenge is that many of these components add to the cost of building and it is important to balance the choices we make with costs so to not overly impact affordability.
One of the most talked about issues at the debate was the impact that government policy has on the development of new housing. The land development and home building industry is one of the most heavily regulated and many policies and processes determine where and how development occurs. A host of policies such as the Planning Act, the Provincial Policy Statement along with numerous regional and local plans including official plans and zoning by-laws make building communities a complex task.
The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe introduced 10 years ago, is one of the most impactful policies. The plan was designed to change the pattern of development in the GTA and it mandates more intensification. The industry has adapted and today we are building at least as many multi-family high-rise homes as low-rise homes. We’re building up and not out, we’re using less land and creating denser neighbourhoods. But demand for low-rise homes hasn’t gone away. We build to policy and are building fewer of low-rise homes especially single-family detached homes which is impacting housing choice and pricing for consumers.
Another issue raised was the constraints on regional land supply, and its impact on land and housing. We have a shortage of serviced land that’s development ready. Much of the land designated for development isn’t shovel-ready because it’s not serviced with sewers, water and roads. Lack of serviced land restricts the supply of new housing, especially ground-related homes which is drastically below historic norms and escalating land prices are making it more difficult for first time buyers to purchase a home.
The participants also discussed rising government fees and charges and the impact it’s having on the industry. A large part of fees are development charges or tax imposed by local municipalities and paid by new homeowners as a means to help offset the capital costs of growth-related municipal services such as roads, water and sewers, emergency services, parks and recreation and transit. The rates have increased exponentially, between 143 and 357 per cent since 2004 and has shifted the burden of paying for critical infrastructure onto the newest residents and businesses moving into a neighbourhood.
And this could even get worse as governments are looking to the industry and new homebuyers to pay even more to help fund infrastructure and transit, and possibly even affordable housing.
Rising construction and labour costs were also discussed at the debate. We strive to build to the highest construction standards but it’s getting more challenging as these costs escalate and ultimately impact new homebuyers.
As our region grows and evolves, it is becoming more important to create communities that will endure for future generations. Now is not the time for small plans. We need to think big and work together to come up with creative solutions for how to do things differently.