There is some cautious optimism around Hamilton city council about the province coming around on development changes, even as one councillor is pushing to draw a symbolic line in the sand.
The office of Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said Friday cities such as Hamilton will still get revenue from new home builds — as local leaders work to be filled in on what “kept whole” means in the context of the province’s Bill 23.
There is universal agreement that Hamilton and the Southern Ontario region need more homes of all varieties built like yesterday to alleviate shortages and rising rents. That said, the Ford government’s More Homes, Built Faster Act has raised numerous concerns among mayors, city councillors, conservation authorities, Indigenous leaders, and environmental activists about whether all of that is necessary. Some municipalities have warned of massive property tax increases, or major cuts to city services.
The province expects Hamilton to add 52,400 new homes by 2031. The city already had 37,000 units approved, though, before changes were handed down from Queen’s Park.
There are two motions on the agenda for a general issues committee (GIC) meeting on Hamilton council on Feb. 1 that pertain to the changes from the province. One motion calls on City of Hamilton staff to explore whether future property tax bills can “include language … that would indicate any increase in property taxes due to Ontario legislative changes.”
The other, to be moved by Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko, calls on his colleagues to declare it “unnecessary” for the province to order development on farmland in Hamilton in the Greenbelt and whitebelt (with the latter opened through an imposed urban boundary changes, which the group Ecojustice is taking the province to court over).
Clark wrote a letter on Dec. 22 to Hamilton council assuring them that the province will “ensur(e) municipalities are kept whole for any impact to their ability to fund housing enabling infrastructure because of Bill 23.”
Friday, the minister’s office claimed that municipalities will still see revenue from the construction of new homes. Clark’s press secretary said that the province plans to pay for audits of some cities, then come up with “alternative tools” to help growth pay for itself.
“Through Bill 23, the government is eliminating development charges for affordable, attainable and not-for-profit housing,” spokesperson Victoria Podbielski stated in reply to written questions from inTheHammer sent to Clark’s constituency office e-mail.
“Purpose-built rentals will see reductions of up to 25 per cent for family-friendly units. In many cases, these huge fees are the difference between a project starting or not getting built at all.
“To be clear, this doesn’t mean that municipalities won’t get revenue from a new home build, it means that home ownership won’t keep moving further out of reach for Ontarians because of increased fees that add thousands to the price of a home.
“We are launching a third-party audit of select municipalities to get a factual understanding of their finances, including their reserve funds and development charge administration,” Podbielski added on behalf of Clark. “Together with our municipal partners, we will use this process to get the facts, make improvements, and better serve taxpayers by exploring alternative tools for growth to pay for growth rather than continuing to raise development fees on new homebuyers. More details will be available in the future.”
That letter signed by Clark referred to “out-of-control municipal fees” that tack on $61,000 to the price of the average single-family home in Hamilton. After that correspondence was included in the agenda for a city council meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 25), Danko got a somewhat different framing from corporate services general manager Mike Zegerac.
Zegerac didn’t dispute that dollar figure, saying it represents the development charge for a detached home with separated water and wastewater service. It is slightly less, about $53,000, for a home with a combined sewer outflow. That drops markedly for the type of ‘missing middle’ housing that Hamilton and other climate-vulnerable cities are aiming to build, such as fourplexes.
“The multi-residential rate would be about 50 per cent of that $53,000 to $61,000 range,” Zegerac said. “The charge is tied to infrastructure required.”
Zegerac added, “I’ll just highlight that the setting of these fees are heavily regulated by the province of Ontario.”
Another carefully parsed passage from Clark speaks to the province’s willingness to extend funding to cities that meet housing targets. The same ministry also recently turned down the city’s request for more funding to help housing-deprived Hamiltonians.
“We don’t have details as to what those conditions may be, and what risks would be associated with those conditions,” Zegerac said.
He added that all of this comes while municipalities are being challenged to “manage the quality of infrastructure.” Hamilton is dedicating 5 per cent of its 2023 tax-supported capital budget to its infrastructure deficit. Suburban sprawl is generally more expensive to service than urban neighbourhoods built up through infill density.
Zegerac added that all of this comes while cities such as Hamilton are facing having to “rely more so on debt” in order to make timely investments in infrastructure. He also pointed out there is “limited opportunity” to scale back on hard-infrastructure projects.
Mayor Andrea Horwath and Clark met on Tuesday (Jan. 24) about the challenges Hamilton is facing to support construction. Around 37,000 new units are presently approved for construction in the city. The province has assigned Hamilton to build 52,400 new homes built by 2031.
Danko, at that meeting, did take a positive from the province speaking about partnerships.
“If they are thinking about the severe financial impacts of provincial legislation, then I really hope that the provincial government is able to hear the feedback that they’re getting from across Ontario, and follow through on some of those ideas,” Danko said.
The letter from Clark came in reply to a council request have both local PC Party of Ontario MPPs, Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Neil Lumsden (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek) and Donna Skelly (Flamborough—Glanbrook), to address Hamilton council. That is definitely not happening any time soon.
Danko did, though, ask whether any PC Party MPPs have accepted an invitation to discuss Bill 23 and/or the Greenbelt changes with a local council.
“I’m aware of similar requests made, but I haven’t been informed of any municipality that has had their local MPP come,” city manager Janelle Smith said in response.
Clark and Mayor Horwath did meet this week, and both indicated that it was productive.
In the meantime, next week councillors will debate, possibly at length, Danko’s motion on a response to the provincial edicts about development. It notes that Hamilton “has declared a Climate Emergency and adopted a Climate Change Action Strategy, and unchecked urban sprawl will exacerbate the climate crisis.”
The resolution is a two-parter, since some farmland in Hamilton could disappear as a result of the urban boundary change and some is included in the Greenbelt plan. But both call on council to say each is “unnecessary and is not supported by the City of Hamilton.”
That GIC meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday (Feb. 1).
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