The province’s proposed housing policies won’t work in northern Ontario, say local leaders

Ontario unveiled proposed legislation last week focusing on cutting ‘red tape’ to build more homes, but leaders in Sudbury and North Bay aren’t convinced that the policies pitched by the province will make a difference in northern Ontario. The Ford government pitched several ideas, including developing new business service standards for building permits, exempting public universities from the Planning Act so they can build higher density student housing, and giving municipalities a “use it or lose it” tool to address stalled development. The province aims to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 to alleviate the housing supply crisis and keep up with population growth. To achieve this, it would need to build at least 125,000 homes annually, although the 2024 budget forecasts some 88,000 housing starts this year. In Greater Sudbury, Ward 10 councillor and planning committee chair Fern Cormier says he hasn’t yet seen anything in the proposed legislation that will “dramatically affect” the city. “I understand the concept behind the use it or lose it proposal,” he said. “We currently have a similar system in place, with plans of subdivision being subject to three-year renewal applications.” He says the iteration that the province is pushing forward will address issues that are more typically found in southern Ontario communities. The former Sudbury General Hospital closed in 2010, was approved for a condo re-development in 2012, but other than the painting of Canada’s largest mural, there has been little activity in recent years. Many in the community now consider the building to be an eyesore. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)Cormier says that based on his interpretation of the proposals, a “use it or lose it” policy wouldn’t help address stalled developments like the one at the former general hospital, also known as St. Joseph’s hospital. “It seems to apply more to plans of subdivision rather than independent site specific developments,” he said. Different issues are slowing down housing in northern Ontario, according to North Bay mayorIn North Bay, Mayor Peter Chirico says “a lot of that legislation is directed at the GTA and high growth areas” and he doesn’t think it applies to northern Ontario. “We don’t have a lot of development that’s just sitting. When they have the opportunity, developers in northern Ontario go forward with it,” he added. Chirico believes some of the issues slowing down development in the province’s north boil down to geology. “In northern Ontario we have rock, and southern Ontario has sand. The cost of servicing individual lots is very expensive,” he said, adding he believes costs have doubled since the end of the pandemic. Last year both Greater Sudbury and North Bay exceeded their provincially set housing targets thanks to long-term care beds being included in the final tally.Chirico says North Bay is on track to exceed its targets once again this year, but that the data will look different as no long-term care projects are set to come online there in 2024. North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico says northern Ontario faces different challenges than the province’s south when it comes to building homes. (Erik White/CBC)Chirico says secondary suite dwellings will be included in the final count this year, unlike in 2023, which will help boost the numbers. “The spring has started off fairly early and we’re quite encouraged and we believe that we will meet or exceed our targets,” he said. In Greater Sudbury Fern Cormier also believes the 2024 housing landscape will look different than last year.”I would hazard a guess that even if we were to not count the long-term care beds that will probably be seeing us achieve our targets on our housing starts when we look at the multi-family units specifically that we have coming online,” he said.

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