The GTA is in danger of becoming the next London, Hong Kong or New York City, places that are highly desirable but unaffordable for most people.
Much of the dramatic increase that we have seen in the prices of new homes, resale homes, and in rental housing is the result of housing supply being outstripped by the demands for housing. The population of the GTA has grown significantly, but housing supply has not kept up.
An answer to the housing supply crisis in the GTA may lie in building our way to affordable housing much like Tokyo has. As the largest city in the world, one would think that Tokyo would be unaffordable, but the reality is quite the opposite. Tokyo makes home construction easy, with few legal barriers, no red tape and flexible zoning rules.
Japanese zoning laws grant land owners greater flexibility to do what they want with their property, allowing them to use their land with little pushback. With a growing population of 13 million, builders constructed more than 142,000 homes in 2014, making it possible to purchase a detached single-family home near the city core for $300,000.
Closer to home, the City of Montreal is able to provide affordable housing by finding the “missing middle”. Housing options for people living in the GTA have been either large expensive low-rise dwellings or smaller expensive high-rise condos. What we’re missing in the GTA are townhouses, triplexes and mid-rise buildings.
Montreal has embraced the power of the “missing middle”; developers are building low-rise dwellings – mostly three-storey flats and mid-rise apartment buildings. They build three-story walk-up apartments within the city and in the suburbs, making Canada’s second largest city more affordable than Greater Vancouver.
The home building and land development industry wants to design and build homes and communities much like Tokyo and Montreal that meet the housing needs of the GTA, that is our business, that is what we do, but it is getting harder as challenges grow in number and scale. Complicated and restrictive government policies, already lengthy yet still worsening approval processes, a shortage of shovel-ready and approved land on which to build, escalating land prices, and the growing issue of NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard), are impeding our ability to build homes and communities.
Excessive red tape and increasing delays in planning approvals are another huge challenge. Across the GTA it is taking longer and longer to get the go-ahead for projects. A typical new low-rise development can take a decade or more and high-rise projects can take up to seven years.
The approvals process is further delayed due to zoning bylaws in many GTA municipalities that have not been updated for decades. All new development applications must conform to area zoning bylaws to get approved but unfortunately many municipalities are operating with badly outdated bylaws that don’t align with provincial intensification policies.
It is time for government to take action to address our housing supply problem. Across the GTA governments must streamline the planning approval process and remove red tape, pre-designate and pre-zone land, and approve all outstanding environmental assessments that relate to critical infrastructure. As well, they need to update zoning bylaws to support intensification policies and support these policies with public education.
This is not a time for small plans. It’s time to work together and address our housing supply crisis so that today’s new home buyers and future generations have somewhere to live.