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June 14, 2024

Fixing the housing crisis is not easy work, but it's a job we can't afford to put off any longer


We are now only days away from the official beginning of summer. Many of us count the minutes until we can take some time to get away from our regular routines and enjoy the warm weather, sunshine, and, hopefully, some of Northern Ontario's natural beauty. While sitting by the lake, attending local events, or having friends over for a barbecue are what we first envision when we think of summer; in the back of our minds, we are also thinking about those odd jobs and projects that we can get done now that the weather has turned pleasant.

Of course, those chores we've been putting off are never in the front of our minds when we picture what we will do with our free time away from work or school. But we know deep down that keeping them on the back burner too long is a recipe for disaster.

When the Progressive Conservative Party voted to recess the legislature earlier than planned and to extend it until Oct. 21st last week, I couldn't help but think that they are falling into this summer mentality and pushing aside the sometimes arduous work of the legislature in favour of heading back to their ridings and focusing on the constituency work that makes up the other half of an MPP's job.

Don't get me wrong; I firmly believe that our work in our home constituencies is vitally important to our role as legislators. To represent the people who've elected us, we must spend time in communities and on the doorstep, understanding the unique situations in our localities. I immensely enjoy the work I get to do in Algoma-Manitoulin. I'm sure most of my colleagues enjoy working in their ridings. However, we cannot let politically motivated goals detract from what we know needs to be done. And let me say there is plenty of work at the legislature that needs to be done.

One of the biggest issues requiring the legislature's immediate attention is housing. Every major opinion poll in Ontario over the last year has shown that housing affordability is top-of-mind for people in our province. It is also the area where, according to a February poll by Pallas, 67% of Ontarians do not believe the government has been doing enough.  

Unfortunately, I am inclined to be in the same camp as this two-thirds majority. Here in Algoma-Manitoulin, we've seen the supply of affordable housing rapidly decline. According to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), as recently as 2018, most homes in almost every part of our riding were valued at $250k or less. Since 2023, the trend of available housing within that range has been declining, which is expected to continue.

For example, in Elliot Lake, there has been a 34.5% decrease in homes valued at $250k or less. In Huron Shores, there has been a 39.2% decrease. And in Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, there's been a 66.3% decrease in these homes. I could go on, but I encourage readers to look at this information for themselves on MPAC's website here.

Not only is the cost of housing rising year-over-year, the latest figures from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) are telling us that housing starts are falling. In April 2024, the CMHC reported that housing starts for single detached homes fell 8% from last year, and all other housing types fell 41%. These numbers mean that, in Ontario, we had roughly the same level of construction starts as we had in 2018. This is hardly what we would want to see when looking at the price disparity from then to now. 

In the spring meeting period of the legislature, we had one major piece of housing legislation come from the government outside of the budget in the form of Bill 185, the Cutting Red Tape and Building More Homes Act. While this legislation did include some good policies that were broadly agreed upon (such as reversing the previous changes to development charges that threatened to raise municipal taxes and granting 'use-it-or-lose-it powers to local governments), it was not a very substantial piece of legislation given the crisis we face and mainly focused on housing issues in southern Ontario.

John Michael McGrath, writing in TVO, summed up this legislation very aptly when he said, "None of those items from the government's plan is bad. They're just not sufficient."

However, I believe in fairness and giving credit where it is due. In the most recent budget, the government included funding opportunities to address the deficit in municipal infrastructure that has hampered housing starts in many parts of the province, especially small and rural areas like ours. Municipalities that apply for and are awarded these funds will be able to develop new areas more easily and rapidly for housing, upgrade capacity within infrastructure such as water treatment facilities, and ultimately ensure that ratepayers or home buyers do not bear these costs. This is a good policy but only addresses a fraction of the issues.

Part of what has slowed down the legislative push on housing, I would hazard to guess, is the number of policy reversals that Premier Ford and his Minister of Housing have had to make over the course of their most recent mandate. I mentioned above that part of Bill 185 was reversing an earlier policy on development charges for municipalities. There has been a litany of other reversals that this government has been pressured into making on the housing file, including the expansion of certain urban boundaries and the removal of parcels of land from the Greenbelt for development. In lurching between policy and reversal, the Premier has damaged the government's relationship with its most important partners when it comes to home building: municipalities and developers. This has undoubtedly contributed to their timidness in developing new legislation and their desire to put housing on the back burner.

Northern Ontario has unique challenges to overcome in providing an adequate stock of affordable housing, which have not been widely discussed or addressed by this government. A 2021 report by the CMHC highlighted 7 issues of pressing concern in the North:

  1. High construction costs put a constraint on new development.

  2. A lack of affordable rental housing.

  3. Poor condition of existing housing stock and the cost of maintenance.

  4. High energy costs.

  5. Lack of adequate housing for a growing senior population.

  6. A growing prevalence of homelessness in the North.

  7. Limited supportive housing and a growing population in need of social housing or non-profit housing.

Addressing these issues would go a long way in stabilizing the affordable housing market in Northern Ontario. If the government were to implement measures such as providing financial assistance for home repairs, promoting local training opportunities in the skilled trades, converting vacant buildings into affordable rental accommodations, investing in non-profit housing, and subsidizing the construction of assisted-living and seniors housing, there would be a tangible effect on housing supply and prices across our region.

In the 2024 budget, the government projected that housing starts in Ontario will decline again this year, leaving them well short of the rate needed to reach the target of building 1.5 million homes by 2030. They also do not expect the average price of a home to drop anytime soon; rather, their models predict it will reach almost $1 million by 2027.

With all these bleak outcomes on the horizon under our current housing policy framework, it is inexcusable to put this work aside. While the appeal of a long summer recess has clearly won over Premier Ford and his cabinet ministers, Ontarians should not easily forget the cost it will have for them down the road.

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député       

Algoma-Manitoulin

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