Bill 23 to present some challenges for at least one northern city
The province's latest piece of legislation has at least one northern Ontario community taking a look at how it may have to deal with cuts made to its development fees.
A preliminary estimate of Bill 23, or the More Homes, Built Faster Act is anticipated to cost Greater Sudbury $7.5 million in the coming years.
"This will change based on several factors such as the level and timing of development activity and growth-related projects to accommodate new development,” said a city spokesperson via email.
“The bill introduces many changes that already exist within the city’s existing policies. Examples of these include allowing secondary units, as well as exemptions of development charges for secondary units and affordable housing units."
Staff are currently working to provide a more detailed analysis, early in the new year, for city council. It could end up coinciding with budget time. The city has three new councillors and a new mayor and will be looking to honour the previous council’s pledge to try and keep the property tax increase to 3.7 per cent or less.
The issue is one that's on the radar of new mayor Paul Lefebvre who had recently returned from a meeting with his big city counterparts in Guelph, Ont.
"A lot of the goals and objectives in Bill 23, certainly align with the goals and objectives that we have here at the city of Greater Sudbury. We want to build more housing, we need to build more housing so I think starting off I have no problems with Bill 23," he said.
“Where the issues lie are with the reduction in the development charges that the province wants to bring in so right now we're evaluating what does that represent for the city of Greater Sudbury.”
Lefebvre said they're currently looking to see if they can compensate for that loss.
"We really need to look at the finances of the city, that's why we'll tackle it in the new year," said the mayor.
"Certainly the estimated cuts of what it represents, it's an estimate of what it'll cost us over the next number of years. What does that represent in terms of reductions to our services, our increase in taxes. We don't want to increase taxes or reduce services, that's our objective but how do we do that? That's why for me, if we have more housing, more industry, more businesses that want to expand, we need to expand our tax base and that's what we have to be focused on."
He added they're also looking to see what the city can do to make it easier for permits to be issued. Staff are looking to see what can be streamlined to make the process faster and more efficient.
When asked about what kind of impact, this will mean for the north, council will be looking to add to the province's goal of 1.5 million homes.
Development charges help pay for infrastructure and services offered by the city including roads and transit. The state of the roads has been a hot topic for many on council who add they've made progress in resurfacing some of the arteries and they don't want to take a step back, if possible.
"We certainly need more affordable housing across the province and certainly in the city. We've seen it over the two years, the need for the homeless and affordable housing, in that respect I'm certainly looking forward to the initiative start here in Sudbury," said Ward 8 Councillor Al Sizer.
"I think it will help Sudbury, we have a shortage of housing, our long-term plan, the mayor's long-term plan is to grow the city to 200,000 over the next 20 years or so, so we will need those homes for people to reside in and the Northern Immigration Pilot Project that's being run also, we're hoping to draw and attract skilled labour to the community so that will also put a crunch on the housing so we need this initiative to start."
Sizer said the lack of development charges is a concern, but if the city can see that prescribed growth, it will help the city hopefully offset that loss. He added the city has already made some moves in reducing development fees and the impact may not be as difficult as they think.
Members of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) are also watching the issue. President Danny Whalen is a long-time councillor in the city of Temiskaming Shores.
"Municipalities are the first one to line-up for growth, be it industrial or residential growth, we're pro-growth. The problem with the current bill is that about a year ago, the province was saying there is a hold-up to building homes because municipalities are too slow in the process,” said Whalen.
“In the FONOM region, we took a survey of all our membership, which is 110 municipalities in northeastern Ontario: the average wait time, even with hiccups in the process for a building permit, was about two weeks. A subdivision takes a little longer, but the reality is municipalities in the northeast are not holding up development."
He added the other issue with the bill is the development fees.
"Municipalities in the northeast don't have a lot of money banked based on development fees and they simply show that growth should pay for growth," he said.
Whalen told CTV News if communities don't have development charges, and a developer comes in and wants to build a subdivision, those extra costs are going to be born by the taxpayer and they don't believe that's fair.
"The minister is aware of our concerns. We want to work with the ministry and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing because like I say municipalities are pro-growth, we're not anti-growth, so we want to work with the ministry,” he said.
“In the northeast especially, we find it a little ironic that the province is allowing building in the land they own, which is unincorporated with total disregard to building code, fire code, the environment. The province isn't stepping in at all but they're telling organized municipalities how they should handle development. It doesn't carry a strong flavour in our opinion."
The city of Toronto has said the loss of development charges will result in a loss to its tax base of $230-million.
Speaking after the bill passed, Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark said the province is entitled to about $1.5 billion from the federal government and hopes to work with the province to get shovels in the ground faster.
CTV News Northern Ontario reached out to other large cities in the region. Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie don't expect much of an impact fiscally due to the fact they don't collect development fees. While North Bay anticipates the impact will be minimal given that there's been a moratorium on residential development charges for several years. Even still, they said, when development charges were in effect, affordable and non-profit housing were exempt.
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