The Fight to Save Affordable Housing from Bill 23

ACORN International Canada Housing Municipalities Rights

           London, Ontario         Listening to the organizing reports at ACORN Canada’s Year End / Year Begin meeting, several themes were common, as one after another got up to describe their actions and progress during the year, and that was especially true for all of the offices in Ontario:  Hamilton, Peel, London, Ottawa, and, of course, Toronto, of the fight is to stop the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and its Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 23, the More Homes, Built Faster Act. Ford’s announced goal is to build 1.5 million homes in the province, but in reality, this act is a gift to housing developers and seeks to do so by reducing the affordable housing stock in the name of false efficiencies.

None of this is unique to Canada.  There’s not a developer in the world that doesn’t complain that they are being stymied and facing more costs thanks to regulations and bureaucracies.  After two decades of struggle in Mumbai, India over developmental plans for Dharavi, the home and workplace of hundreds of thousands of lower income families in the heart of the city, the tender is finally out and seems to have been won, unsurprisingly by one of the country’s superrich oligarchs and an ally of the government.  There the trick was how to lock all residents out of the best relocation benefits, if they didn’t live there twenty years ago.  I could repeat that story in city after city around the world.

In Canada, Bill 23 is an effort to strip municipalities of fundamental powers affecting urban planning, usurping them in the name of the state.  Ford, a former Toronto councilman and brother of the former mayor, has been at war with the city since he gained power in 2018.  Earlier he had unilaterally reduced the size of the council itself in a blatant power grab to punish his enemies.  Where ACORN has been winning inclusionary zoning rules with some success in Toronto and Mississauga, Bill 23 seeks to reduce any IZ impact that might have been up to 99 years for a project, down to no more than 20 at the maximum.  Where we have been demanding, and in some cases, winning, provisions of up to 20-25% affordable units, Bill 23 seeks to cap IZ at 5%.  Ford already restricted IZ to only within 800 meters of transportation sources, but this is an attempt to kill it completely.

The other huge target of Bill 23 is existing housing stock by gutting “rental replacement” provisions.  As ACORN Canada explains;

Bill 23 talks about “standardizing” rental replacement bylaws. Rental replacement bylaws are a tool cities can use during the redevelopment of affordable housing or conversion to condos to require developers to replace the affordable units in the new development and offer them back to existing tenants at the same rent. Instead of viewing them as a key protection that helps preserve the existing affordable/low-end of market housing in major Ontario Cities, Bill 23 sees existing affordable homes as energy inefficient, aging homes and current rental replacement bylaws a hindrance to building more housing. It therefore gives the power to the province to eliminate these protections which will erode the remaining affordable housing, thereby worsening the homelessness and eviction crisis by accelerating demovictions and conversion to condos.

Will 23 build more housing at all?  Doubtful, given the general economy, interest rates, the value of the Canadian dollar, and reduced investment interests in housing generally.  The only beneficiaries will be Ford’s fanboys in the development community who are building high-end, luxury condo and similar projects, where interest rates are less an issue and inequity has created its own set of cushions for those with more money.  For working and lower-income families, Bill 23 is a disaster.

On the eve of the meeting in London, Ontario, 150 had rallied in Ottawa and 175 of our members and allies had joined a protest Zoom call.  All of the Ontario ACORN offices reported on multiple national and local actions to oppose the bill in their cities and at the offices of Members of the Provincial Parliament.  The odds are long, but his fight is a long way from over, as ACORN has dug in deeper and deeper.