Ontario housing minister admits parts of 1.5 million homes pledge ‘out of my contol’

Ontario’s housing minister softened his stance on the government’s ability to build 1.5 million homes by 2031, suggesting interest rates and inflation might dash the Progressive Conservative promise.

The Ford government signed onto the pledge to build 1.5 million homes in 2022 after the province’s housing affordability task force recommended a large volume of housing construction to meet the expected demand.

The government’s recent budget, however, tabled by Finance Minister Peter Belthlenfalvy on March 23, indicated the province’s efforts were falling flat.

While the province needs to build at least 150,000 homes every year to meet its target of 1.5 million homes, housing starts over the next three years were projected to fall significantly.

Read more: Ontario could fail to meet 1.5 million homes target, 2023 budget suggests

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A total of 96,100 homes were started in 2022, the document said. That number is set to fall to 80,300 in 2023 and to 79,300 the following year. The budget projects around 82,700 homes will begin construction in 2025.

That means over four of the 10 years set out in the province’s plan, just 23 per cent of its total target of homes would be built.

When asked about the government’s ability to meet its targets, housing minister Steve Clark said Ontario will do “everything we can” to hit that number, while seemingly backing away from a firm commitment.

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“There’s things out of my control,” Clark said pointing to interest rates and the rising costs of goods. “Inflation in our country is at a point where I can only control things that are in my purview.”

Read more: Doug Ford promises 1.5 million homes over 10 years during stop in London, Ont.

Clark added that his role is to simply create the climate for new construction, suggesting his government is not necessarily responsible for delivering on that promise.

“I want to ensure that everything that I can do at the provincial level and with our municipal partners is in place so when the economy takes that upturn that we can get shovels in the ground,” Clark said.

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The government has often used the need for affordable housing as a shield to defend against a controversial decision to open portions of the Greenbelt for development, reportedly affecting several developers with links to the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.

At the end of 2022, the government finalized a land swap agreement removing 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt for housing construction — a deal that led to complaints of insider trading and an ethics investigation by the Integrity Commissioner.

Click to play video: 'Ontario government projects a surplus in 2024 amid economic slowdown concerns'

Ontario government projects a surplus in 2024 amid economic slowdown concerns

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the lack lustre housing start numbers show “the Ford government’s housing schemes are not working” and demonstrates that the government didn’t need to open the Greenbelt for development.

The province also forced municipalities to forgo millions of dollars in development charges — funds that are used for financial municipal infrastructure and new parkland around new communities — as an incentive to fast-track construction.

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Read more: Cities protest ‘staggering’ losses Ford government’s Ontario housing bill could cause

On Friday, the Ford government and the City of Toronto entered into an agreement that would see the city’s use of development charges and reserve funds audited to determine the true state of accounting, after the city argued the loss of those funds would blow a $1.2-billion hole in its budget over 10 years.

Clark indicated the results of that audit, due in July and September, would determine whether the province would transfer additional payments to the city.

“If we find that there are revenue issues that are created because of the audits we’ve indicated to municipalities we’re going to be partners,” Clark said.

“We’re not going to hang them out to dry.”

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