The provincial government is getting heat for its proposal in the More Homes Built Faster Act to swap out the land from the Greenbelt in order to create a much-needed new housing supply in Ontario.
However, the plan – one of the multiple initiatives undertaken by the government to address the housing affordability and supply crisis – strikes the right balance, as it merely nibbles at the edges of the Greenbelt to permit new housing while adding to the overall land mass of the protected green land area.
The plan will adjust the boundary to remove 15 parcels of land totalling approximately 7,400 acres from edges of the Greenbelt area where at least 50,000 new homes could be built and replace them with 9,400 acres, including a portion of the Paris Galt Moraine and 13 urban river valleys in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This would result in an overall Greenbelt expansion of about 2,000 acres.
Ontario’s population is expected to grow by more than two million people by 2031. As many as 1.5 million of the newcomers will likely locate the Greater Golden Horseshoe. We must adapt to the changing circumstances and dramatically pick up the pace of our housing supply for this growth.
The problem is severe. According to experts who presented recently at a housing summit hosted by RESCON, Ontario will need about 430,000 new housing listings, or 19 per cent more, by 2030. To reach the target of building 1.5 million new homes in Ontario over the next we must double our current efforts.
To build on identified Greenbelt parcels, landowners will have to abide by strict criteria. As Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark noted, they will be expected to develop detailed plans to build housing quickly as it is the government’s expectation that new home construction begins on the lands by no later than 2025, and that significant progress on approvals and implementation must be achieved by the end of 2023. The land would be added back into the Greenbelt if no progress is made.
Permission to build on the parcels will only be granted if the land is adjacent to existing Greenbelt boundaries, next to an existing urban area, and on or near readily serviceable land with local infrastructure.
The Greenbelt was established in 2005 and is a massive, 800,000-hectare swath of farmland, forests, and wetlands that stretches from Niagara to Port Hope.
Land identified for swapping out includes property along Lakeridge Road and Highway 401 in Ajax that is already surrounded by development. Other land includes a plot in Pickering from just north of Finch Avenue to Highway 401, and areas in Hamilton, Grimsby, Clarington, Richmond, Markham, Vaughan, and King Township.
The changes are an important and responsible part of the government’s broader plan to build the necessary housing that we need.
Circumstances have changed since the Greenbelt was created. Boundary lines were never intended to be written in stone forever and adjustments have been made under different governments.
As Minister Clark has noted, when the boundaries of the Greenbelt were drawn up, they encompassed environmentally sensitive lands as well as farmland and land that had previously been designated for growth for housing and employment spaces. This latest adjustment makes sense as it compensates for the land being used by actually adding a property to the Greenbelt elsewhere.
Like the rest of the country, Ontario is in the midst of a housing supply crisis. The plan allows more purposeful use of Greenbelt land to permit residential construction to proceed where it is needed.
Equally important, it adds to the Greenbelt and protects environmentally important lands.
The government’s approach is sensible. For example, the government decided to expand the Greenbelt in the area of the Paris Galt Moraine because of what it heard in past consultations. The area is the headwaters for many streams and rivers and is like a giant sponge that stores groundwater.
As expected, there has been pushback to the government’s plan. But with immigration on the increase, we will need more housing. Making land available for housing development where it is needed and adding land to the Greenbelt where it makes sense is an extremely bold and practical move.
We must do everything we can to get more shovels in the ground for housing. We can balance the protection of the Greenbelt with the demand for new homes. The government plan achieves that goal.
Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected]