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The development cluster-fudge in Toronto

The public would be utterly shocked if they knew the length of time it takes for a building development to get approval from the City of Toronto planning department. The 9-month window that government has designated as the appropriate window of time for project approval never gets met. A report done by the C.D. Howe Institute shows that municipalities ignore this time window. In Toronto developers were forced to take projects to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in order to get city planning to respond to them. Even with the OMB approval, most projects still took between 3 and 4 years to work their way through the planning department.

With the disbandment of the OMB, developers are scratching their heads and wondering who will hold municipal planning accountable to a time frame. No longer can they appeal to the OMB for help. With no accountability the approval process will likely climb to 6 or 7 years.

The provincial government announced the formation of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) but their power is limited to issues around conformity to local or provincial plans. The goal was to give more power to the local municipalities, but decision makers seem to have ignored the fact that planning departments have ballooned in scope without the extra investment by local governments.

Like any government agency the planning department constantly fights the urge to expand their reach into the public sector, and haven’t had much success in Toronto. The planning department has inflated their authority far beyond the role of ensuring buildings are safe and built to code. Unbeknownst to taxpayers the planning department has taken on the role of architecture and design supervision – a role that belongs in the private sector. Few city planners have a full education in architecture or design and yet they have spread their authority to a point where they can completely change the architectural designs of a building. The amount of time spent by Toronto’s planning department doing work that should be done by the private sector is costing Toronto taxpayers millions of dollars, not just in wages, but in housing costs.

Another problem with this expansion of authority is that when a public servant starts choosing the shade of beige they want for a wall (yes, they do this in Toronto) or imposing the shape, size and design of a building (they think it should match everything else around it) they go beyond the scope of their education or ability and no one can stop them. They literally dumb down architecture in the city and truly magnificent buildings never get built.

In Toronto the process of getting a building development approved is a complete cluster-fudge of repetition, with the plans moving between so many city divisions and external agencies (building, roads, parking, water, heritage, etc.) with each having their own silo of authority.

The problem with this overreach of authority is that it adds time (years) to the building approval process, and time has a direct cost that is added to the cost of housing.

The more time a developer has to put into upfront planning the more expensive the overall cost of a building

As more time gets added the more likely it is that developers will choose not to develop. Add to this the fact that development charges in Toronto have nearly doubled over the past year and the cost of housing dramatically increases. Now add in the fact that property prices in Toronto have skyrocketed and it is easy to see why housing prices have increased so dramatically.  Time is the real culprit. Toronto planning must refine the process a development application goes through, and city planners need to curtail their desire to weigh in on design and architecture (which they are not educated in) and focus on the job of ensuring buildings are safe and built to code.

The bottleneck of development applications at city planning today is increasing and slowing down construction of new homes all across Toronto  Toronto’s new Chief planner, Gregg Lintern, has quite a challenge ahead of him. Not simply because the approval process needs a complete overhaul, but also because there is a “closed-door” culture running rampant at the planning department. It breeds an “us against them” mentality that pits city staff against the city’s development industry. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Lintern is able to change the culture, reach out to stakeholders, and make the changes that will impact housing affordability. If he simply carries on with the status quo and allows even more time to be added to the development approval process, he will push the cost of housing even further out of reach for average families.

New Airbnb regulations for the City of Toronto

A new set of regulations for short term rental spaces, such as Airbnb, has been approved by Toronto’s city council.

One of the biggest changes is that basement apartments have now been banned from use as a rental space, leaving many potential landlords who use Airbnb to make some extra cash out in the cold. By limiting guests to people’s primary residences, the city hopes to have better insight into the current housing situation in the city. It also allows more of these suites to be available for long-term contract rentals. One of the new regulations states that only long-term tenants of secondary suites, not the owner, could offer up space for nightly rental.

This step will mean that families who take part in home sharing will now be regulated and formally recognized. Alex Dagg, the policy director for Airbnb Canada said, “This is truly a big step forward for the City of Toronto, in terms of supporting the fact that we have thousands of families in Toronto who have been home-sharing and are now going to be formally recognized and regulated. We look forward to working with the city on the next steps.”

Short term home-sharing hosts will now pay the city $50 per-year for a rental maximum of three rooms, which will be rented for no more than 180 nights per year. The unpredictability of the current housing market in Toronto, along with fluctuating costs, could mean there will be more short-term rentals and less room for long- term tenants.

Those fighting to include secondary suites argued these rules put many homeowners at a disadvantage and they should be allowed flexibility in the choice of renting out spaces they choose. Toronto Mayor John Tory voted in support of the regulations, saying that City Council had the responsibility to put reasonable limits on property use.

Airbnb, which is a San-Francisco-based company that allows users to book home-sharing services online, said that in the past year there were over four million Canadians that have used this service to travel domestically. Earlier this year as part of the government’s pre-budget process, Airbnb sent a letter to the House of Commons finance committee asking the government not to over regulate. This request was unrelated to Toronto’s new regulatory process. So far, the regulations seem to be pleasing to both the government and Airbnb.

The government is set to revisit the rules in 2019 as this will provide a timeline in order to observe any major changes to Toronto housing.

What do you think about these new regulations? Comment below.

Ontario implements new condo board laws

The Ontario government will implement new condo laws in the fall that is said to “ better protect condo owners and residents by increasing consumer protections in Ontario’s condo communities.”

The media has reported on a number of issues involving condo boards, including conflicts of interest and possible corruption. These new laws will provide more education to those that sit on these boards and ensure more transparency as to the process.

One of the biggest changes will be to improve corporation governance and introduce disclosure requirements for directors. This means that all condo directors must indicate whether or not they occupy units in the condo or if they have interests in contracts involving the corporations. Condo directors will also be given mandatory training to improve management and operations.

New voting and quorum rules will be implemented to make it easier for owners to participate. The board must also update the condo corporation regularly to help improve communications.

To aide in this transition, the government will be creating two new administrative authorities — the Condominium Authority of Ontario and the Condominium, which will educate and promote awareness of condo owner rights, and the Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario, which will help regulate and licence managers and providers.

“Creating new consumer protections will help to build more sustainable condo communities so residents moving into condos today and in the future will be able to look forward to healthy condo communities and peace of mind in the place they call home,” said Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, in a statement.

These new rules will be implemented on Sept. 1 and phased in throughout the year.