If other municipalities in Ontario are feeling the same way as Hamilton Council regarding Bill 109,the More Homes for Everyone Act, the government is facing a tidal wave of resistance. As a staff report indicates, the changes contained in Bill 109 are based largely on the premise that the cause of the housing affordability crisis is an increase in population and a lack of housing unit supply. It also appears to be premised on the belief that overriding municipal planning is one way to solve the problem.
The bill, for which the government is seeking municipal input, albeit in a rushed manner, essentially erodes the ability of municipalities to control planning in their boundaries. Measures in the act impose tight timelines on municipalities to render decisions on planning applications. If the decisions are not rendered quickly the city must refund application fees to the developer, who can then send the matter directly to the Ontario Land Tribunal for a decision. As councillor Tom Jackson pointed out, the city appears to lose most of those OLT decisions. Staff say the refunding of application fees could cost taxpayers up to $5 Million.
Hamilton’s Planning Director Steve Robichaud told council that increasing planning staff to speed up planning decisions won’t be easy, even though planning staff are paid out of development application fees and not the tax levy; because there are simply not enough qualified candidates around.
The staff report says the changes, along with Housing Minister Clark’s recent announcement that Hamilton’s boundary freeze will be referred to the Land Tribunal “could take two years to accommodate. Furthermore, the cost of retaining lawyers, planners, consultants, and engineers would be significant ($1 to $2 M dollar range). These delays would, in turn, impact the timelines of other City initiatives already underway that implement Council’s decision, such as intensification strategies, master plans, growth-related funding tool updates etc.”
Staff say the strict timelines reduce the ability of municipalities to negotiate changes with developers, who are often willing to engage in such discussions. “and may cause premature decisions on applications, including more refusals resulting in more litigation time and expenses at the OLT. “
One planner told council there are housing developments that get approval but nothing happens. They are recommending there be a sunset clause in those approvals to ensure that approved housing actually gets built.
Mayor Eisenberger summed up what appeared to be the council and staff consensus.
Staff warn that the changes the government is proposing may make things worse when it comes to providing housing more quickly. “This swing to more provincial control over local processes and discretion will result in less accountability for getting the community building details right, increased litigation costs, delayed decisions, greater confusion on processes, and difficulty retaining and attracting municipal planning staff. Some of the proposed changes in Bill 109 are an unnecessary overreach with punitive costs to municipalities. Some of the proposed amendments will lead to greater animosity between the community and the development industry due to the lack of consensus building opportunity that the planning process plays. “
The meeting today was called to get council approval for a formal response to the proposed legislation