Local experts assess Conservative's Homes act

  • Business   Friday, April 8, 2022   Matthew Harris

With a provincial election around the corner, the Ontario Conservative government has been busy in recent weeks trotting out various carrots for people to nibble at ahead of the June 2 vote.

One such offering, the ‘More Homes For Everyone Act’ that was announced by Premier Doug Ford late in March, has a sprinkling of promise for almost everyone involved in the housing market – buyers, realtors and builders alike. In claiming it offers real solutions to address the provincial housing crisis, the Act’s highlights include: increasing the non-resident speculation tax to 20 per cent province-wide; working with municipalities to identify and enhance measures aimed at cracking down on land speculation; strengthening consumer protections for new homes; creating a new tool to accelerate the planning processes for municipalities; and investing more than $19 million in both the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) and the Landlord and Tenant Board to help reduce backlogs.

While those are just a few of the highlights, it was more than enough to catch the attention of some locals within the housing industry. Matt Feeney, board president of the Stratford and Area Builder’s Association (SABA) believes incentivizing municipalities to get site plan agreements and zoning amendments taken care of in a timely manner is worth noting.

“Over the years, this has been a major hurdle,” he said. “Also, I feel the (non-resident speculation) tax will slow things down a fraction. But we still need a lot of housing units for our current population. Our type of customer might change a bit, but I know personally on our current builds and waiting list, it’s families wanting to call Perth County home.”

For Julie Heitbohmer, the Huron Perth Association of Realtors president, there are multiple points that stand out.

“There are two key elements to this proposed bill that are highlighted,” she said. “It will provide an expedited and cost-effective process for developers along with added layers of consumer protection and financial support for first-time home buyers. These will help with increasing supply and attainability.”

Asked if the speculation tax might negatively affect housing starts, Heitbohmer doesn’t see that as being an issue.

“This tax increasing to 20 per cent and expanding to all regions of Ontario is applicable to land that contains at least one and no more than six single family residences,” she said. “The amendment of the tax is an effort by the Government of Ontario to help make home ownership more attainable. Given the deterrent for non-residents to invest in these properties, it should provide more ability for residents of Ontario to purchase these homes.”

The Conservatives and New Democrats have made a point of addressing the ‘missing middle’ in the housing crisis, and the Act claims it wants to implement ‘gentle-density and multi-generational homes’ across different municipalities. Heitbohmer says that the Ford government has indicated that if this bill passes, the ability to expedite zoning amendments, requirements and approval of applications and permitting to create these types of homes will be supported.

“The need for implementation is urgent and this is a key element in structuring of the bill,” she said. “In regards to our local market, this could truly help create more housing, easing the demand for more residential dwellings.”

Feeney said he expects to see more of these types of builds in the coming years, especially when wages don’t reflect the housing prices. He also made note of the added consumer protections as being important.

“The next generation is going to need help,” he stated. “This will mean an in-law suite in the basement. One thing that will need to be done right will be proper documentation to building departments. We would want to ensure there are enough fire safety measures in place. And I think the (new protections for consumers) needs to happen. You don’t need brick, flooring or counter tops to close a house, so if these don’t show up for a few months after occupancy, they should still be able to carry the same warranty length.”

This was one area that Heitbohmer stressed was vitally important, as consumer protections should reflect the process better.

“There is a clear need for this in this proposed bill: contracts for new builds are signed long before the actual build takes place, and prices would be protected and timelines for developers to complete projects would be in place,” she said. “The extension of the Tarion Warranty Program goes hand-in-hand with this as the ability to address issues with a higher colume of builds is a potential need. Amending submission and completion timelines applicable to Tarion Warranty items should not be complicated.”

When the Act was announced, Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA) president Bob Schickedanz called it bold legislation that “charts a path forward which will help create the right environment to accelerate the delivery of new housing for Ontarians at all stages of life.” Feeney thinks it’s a good start.

“It starts to address the issues in development and construction on the pre-construction stage,” he said. “It will open up more opportunity for infill and creative development, which at the end of the day gets more units on the market. This Act will take some time to implement into our housing market, but over the next two years you will start seeing the small benefits: more development coming online will get more units into the market, so the hope is to have adequate amount of supply that will bring the price to a more normal level.”

Heitbohmer believes this is a step in the right direction.

“Again, should this bill pass, it will open up the ability for more density and development, and it will give developers the push to develop lands that are under application or approval,” she said. “The financial incentives will support first-time buyers and help them get into the home ownership they have been striving to achieve. The tax deterrent could help keep ownership local. The Ontario government is heading in the right direction – this is a great step forward, and hopefully we will see more to come.”