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by Mike Sullivan — submitted as an op ed to the Beacon Herald

Complex and controversial, Bill C-23 is a gift to developers from the newly-minted Provincial Government.  And it comes just as new city councils are being sworn in all over Ontario so none can complain about the more egregious features of this act.

The act, purporting to speed up home construction, is all over the map in terms of the laws and regulations it changes.  It reduces or eliminates the power of the conservation authorities to limit building, which will harm the environment.  It changes what can be designated as heritage and by whom.  It removes the ability of cities to encourage energy efficient building.  It removes the ability for cities to regulate the external design of buildings (ugly can’t be stopped).  And it removes the ability for concerned environmental and other groups to challenge bad development plans at the Ontario Land Tribunal.

All of these changes remove protections and rights of local leaders to have a say in what is built, where, what it looks like and how it fits.  It dooms us to falling further behind our climate change goals.  But it will cause property taxes to go up, too.  Reminds me of the K-tel commercials of the 70’s with the tag line ‘but wait, there’s more!’

Here’s how. Right now, cities pay for infrastructure.  Water, Sewer, Roads, Parks and other city services are installed and maintained by cities.  Installation is partly paid for by ‘Development Charges’, which are levied by cities according to a provincial formula.  Maintenance is entirely paid for through property taxes.  Bill 23 reduces development charges for some, and eliminates it entirely for ‘attainable’ and ‘affordable’ housing.

Who will then pay to put new roads, water lines, sewers and parks in for new developments?  Why the property taxpayer, that’s who.  In order to do this, the city (and all cities in Ontario) will have to raise taxes.  It’s as simple as that.  There is no offer from the province to pay the extra costs.  The developers will be off the hook.  And there is no regulation requiring them to pass that savings on to the buyers.  The developers could pocket the money entirely.

The definition of ‘attainable’ housing is as vague as it can be.  It’s basically anything for sale:

Attainable residential unit

(4) A residential unit shall be considered to be an attainable residential unit if it meets the following criteria:

  1. The residential unit is not an affordable residential unit.
  2. The residential unit is not intended for use as a rented residential premises.
  3. The residential unit was developed as part of a prescribed development or class of developments.
  4. The residential unit is sold to a person who is dealing at arm’s length with the seller.
  5. Such other criteria as may be prescribed.

Affordable housing has a stricter definition.  Basically sale or rent at 80% of average market price.  A mixed development will pay the reduced rate for the percent of non-affordable housing they build, and zero charges for the ‘affordable’ units.

So, the province is forcing property tax increases on municipalities.  The city of Toronto has estimated it will leave a $200 Million hole in its budget.  With $4 Billion in Property Tax income, that means a 5% increase in property taxes will be needed.  Stratford will be similar.  And there is no guarantee that there will now be a solution to the housing crisis all politicians are talking about.  The only guarantee is that developers won’t have to pay for infrastructure, we existing taxpayers will.

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