Jessica Bell MPP, University–Rosedale

Government of Ontario

Fourplexes versus sprawl: Bill 185 goes to committee

Published on June 1, 2024

Everyone in Ontario has a right to live in a home they can afford to rent or own. To ensure our towns and cities are great places to live, we need good public services, from transit to parks to affordable housing.  To protect our farmland and environment, it's essential we build more homes in areas already zoned for development.  

These are the benchmarks I use when I asses the government’s housing bills.  

Now Bill 185 includes some positive measures, but my overall take is that it doubles down on sprawl instead of responsible and livable development. 

I introduced amendments yesterday in committee with the goal of fixing Bill 185.  Here's what happened.

I introduced an amendment permitting fourplexes as of right in towns and cities across Ontario, along with permitting six to 11 stories along transit corridors.  Nearly every stakeholder who came to committee - from the homebuilders to environmental groups - called on the government to increase density in towns and cities.  The Conservatives voted this amendment down. 

I voted against the Conservatives pro-sprawl move to permit municipalities to redraw their urban boundaries and permit low-density housing on nearby farmland and greenspace whenever they want and with no justification.  I also voted against the Conservatives' move to allow developers to take municipalities to the Lands Tribunal if the municipality says no to their application to permit their development on farmland beyond the municipal boundary. 

Sprawl is expensive for municipalities to service, it is bad for the environment, worsens congestion, and threatens Ontario’s farming sector, which needs land to survive and thrive.  Thank you to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Environmental Defense, Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, the Grand River Environmental Network, and the National Farmers Union for your comments.

We voted against the government’s move to ban upper tier municipalities from directing planning in their region.  In areas with many small towns, it is efficient to have regional government coordinate where housing, infrastructure, sewerage, roads, and more will go.   

I was very impressed to hear about the work in Waterloo region, which is proactively building more housing near transit, while protecting its precious groundwater and countryside line.    

Downloading planning responsibilities to the municipal level could result in the underbuilding or overbuilding of infrastructure, and a less coordinated approach overall.

I voted against the government’s move to ban some third parties from appealing developments to the Lands Tribunal.  The Conservatives introduced amendments in committee to manipulate the Lands Tribunal to suit their agenda.  Developers, municipalities, some landowners, and airports can appeal a development, but citizens and environmental groups cannot.  This is blatantly undemocratic.  I appreciated reading the Canadian Environmental Law Association's summary of the cases they've taken to the Lands Tribunal to protect Ontario's land, air and water. 

There is certainly a need for Lands Tribunal reform. The tribunal should be a tribunal of last resort where there is a potential violation of municipal or provincial rules, not a default development-approval body.  The province should work with municipalities to ensure their carefully deliberated democratic official plans meet each region's housing, employment, and service needs, and are then fully enacted.  

I brought in amendments to enshrine a municipality’s right to provide tenants with protection when their building is demolished and converted to a condo or purpose-built rental.  As new buildings go up, tenants are being kicked out and priced out of their neighborhoods.  Renters should be entitled to receive full compensation during construction and should be able to return to their home at the same rent and services once the new building is complete. The Conservatives voted this down.

I brought in an amendment to allow municipalities to apply inclusionary zoning where they see fit and not just near transit stations.  Inclusionary zoning gives municipalities the right to direct developers to build some affordable homes – typically about 10% - in new big developments.  To solve our housing crisis, we must build affordable homes.   The Conservatives voted this amendment down.   The Conservatives are steadfastly opposed to government investment in non-market and affordable housing, even though other regions have demonstrated that it works. 

I asked the Conservatives to permit municipalities to collect development fees to help pay for affordable housing and shelter.   In its submission to the committee, AMO estimates the move removed $2 billion from housing, impacting an estimated 47,000 homes. Bill 23 banned municipalities from collecting this fee, which is unethical and heartless. In Toronto, we have soaring condos with people sleeping rough in the lobby because they’ve got nowhere affordable to go and the shelters are full.   The government members voted it down. 

There are some measures in this bill that we voted to support in committee.   

The government restored some of municipalities’ ability to charge developers for some of the costs needed to build new infrastructure.  Typically, development charges pay for about 60 to 70% of the capital costs of infrastructure, and none of the operating costs.  Infrastructure is essential to building new housing and ensuring our cities and towns are well-run and good places to live in.

The bill also brings in use it or lose it policies, so municipalities have the power to compel developers to build once they’ve been given the approval to build by the city.  Municipalities can reallocate water and sewerage capacity allocated to a development and can set expiry dates for certain building approvals.  Developers should not be permitted to sit on building permits to wait for a more profitable time to build. 

Despite these positive developments, however, the bill has too many downsides for us to support at third and final reading.  

I look forward to sharing many of the written comments provided by citizens and stakeholders in committee.