A new report by Fortress Real Developments, a BILD member, suggests that there is a disconnect between Ontario’s land-use policies and demand in the GTA’s housing market. The report’s findings echo what I’ve been saying in these columns and elsewhere for years.
The Province directs growth to locations and built forms that don’t align with public demand, resulting in insufficient housing supply and skewed housing values in the GTA, says the Fall 2017 Market Manuscript. In it, Fortress compiled responses from a survey of 53 urban planners in Ontario, including those who work for government and those in industry.
Fifty-six per cent of the urban planners surveyed believed that Ontario’s “urban containment policies,” such as the Places to Grow Act and the Greenbelt Act, contribute to the growth of new home prices in the GTA. Legislation cannot change “long-held preferences” in the type of home that people want, the report points out. Single-family housing continues to be more desirable than condominium apartments, especially for families, Fortress says in the report. In a social media survey of the general public that the company conducted, some 36 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to drive an hour each way to work if they could live in a suburban townhouse with a backyard, rather than in a downtown condo apartment with a five-minute commute to work.
Many people are doing just that, the report suggests, pointing out there were 6,000 more low-rise sales in the Greater Golden Horseshoe outside the GTA last year than there were in 2014. The majority of the buyers are likely people from the GTA who now commute considerable distances to work, the report says.
When Fortress asked urban planners what factors they thought were impeding the building of ground-oriented housing supply in the GTA, forty per cent of respondents said “provincial land-use policies” and “intensification targets that don’t align with demand.” Forty-two per cent of those surveyed also said “no servicing allocation” is one of the factors that hold up new low-rise developments. That means that land where new housing could be built is not serviced with critical infrastructure such as water, wastewater and hydro.
This finding echoes what BILD has long said about the lack of serviced and developable land in the GTA. In some cases, water and sewer servicing won’t be in place for at least another decade.
In the survey, Fortress also asked planners about options for improving housing affordability in the GTA. Fifty-four per cent of the planners surveyed felt that permitting “missing middle” housing, such as duplexes, fourplexes and stacked towns, in stable low-rise neighbourhoods is the change that would have the biggest positive impact on housing affordability. Some 40 per cent said permitting 8-12 storey buildings on avenues and arterial roads would have the biggest positive impact.
The problem, as we have often pointed out, is that many neighbourhoods and municipalities in the GTA are not zoned for this kind of intensification. That is why we have been urging the Province to require municipal governments to update their zoning by-laws to allow denser housing forms.
The report from Fortress Real Developments reinforces the need for all of us—the Province, municipalities, the industry and the public—to work together to address the housing supply and affordability crisis in the GTA.