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Ford shuts door on as-of-right fourplexes, ending cabinet back-and-forth

Three sources in or close to the government said the premier and key ministers have been debating the move its housing task force said is vital
Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during a press conference in Milton, Ont., on Friday, March 8, 2024.

Premier Doug Ford has ruled out allowing fourplexes as of right across Ontario, saying it would be a “massive mistake” even though it was recommended by his government’s housing affordability task force. 

He made the remarks Thursday at a news conference, where he announced more than $1.5 billion in new infrastructure funding to allow more homes to be built. 

His comments capped off what three sources in and close to the government told The Trillium has been a sometimes tense debate among his cabinet. 

They also ignited criticism from opposition parties. 

“I can assure you 1,000 per cent, you go in the middle of communities and start putting up four-storeys, six-storey, eight-storey buildings and right deep into the communities, there's going to be … a lot of shouting and screaming, that's a massive mistake,” said Ford in response to a question from The Trillium.  

Ford also referred to a bill the Ontario Liberals tabled earlier this week that, if passed, would allow up to four units and four storeys to be built as of right on residential land across the province, meaning fourplexes would legally be allowed across the province without the need for a municipal rezoning process. 

“We are not going to go into communities and build four-storey or six-storey buildings beside residences like this,” said Ford, standing at a construction site where new homes are being built in Richmond Hill. “It's off the table for us. We're going to build homes, single-dwelling homes, townhomes — that's what we're gonna focus on.”

Legalizing multi-unit dwellings is the single biggest step the province could take to tackle the housing crisis, according to the report published by the Progressive Conservative government-appointed Housing Affordability Task Force.

The premier’s office clarified Ford’s remarks, saying municipalities can still choose to allow fourplexes, but the province won’t impose these types of multi-unit dwellings on them. 

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra has been preparing the PC government’s next housing bill over the last few months. 

Legislating as-of-right fourplexes provincewide is one component that has been tensely debated by Ford and his cabinet, three sources in or closely connected to the PC government told The Trillium.

The premier himself opposed a fourplexes proposal that Calandra brought forward, the three sources said. 

Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma is one member of Ford’s cabinet who shares the premier’s position, according to two sources. These sources also said that while Ford’s personal views on the types of homes people want to live in shape his position, Surma has been wary of the province’s servicing limitations, which the $1-billion-plus in funding that she and the premier announced on Thursday seeks to address.

Calandra addressed that in his remarks to reporters at Queen’s Park.

“There are thousands of homes that can’t be built across York Region. There are thousands of homes that can’t be built in Niagara Region. It’s because of sewer and water, and we are responding to that,” the housing minister said.

Calandra became municipal affairs and housing minister in early September after Steve Clark resigned over the Greenbelt scandal. His openness towards as-of-right fourplexes, in contrast to Ford, has been driven by his desire to meet the government’s task force’s goal of getting 1.5 million new homes built in the province between 2022 and 2031, two sources said. 

“Ontario must build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years to address the supply shortage,” the Housing Affordability Task Force’s 2022 report said. Building enough homes to reach that target would require “doubling how many homes Ontario creates each year,” the report added.

Since Ford’s Tories committed to the 1.5 million homes by 2031 target, new housing starts have been sluggish.

There were 96,080 housing starts in Ontario in 2022, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

In 2023, Ontario had 89,297, according to the CMHC. The provincial government, however, has begun including new long-term care beds and additional residential units, like newly added basement suites, to its count, putting its tally for last year at 109,011. 

Over the last couple of years, the development industry has grappled with high interest rates, increased cost of goods, and a labour shortage.

The PCs also spent months reckoning with the fallout of the Greenbelt scandal, leading them to walk back multiple significant moves that were aimed at getting more homes built.

Calandra is also now not expected to introduce his upcoming housing bill until late April, two sources said. 

Calandra is also government house leader and legislative affairs minister, spearheading the Queen’s Park renovation. The division of these responsibilities has impacted when the new legislation will be ready, according to two sources. 

"This is the guy who's the acting premier, for lack of a better way of putting it,” one source said.

As for the final say on the cabinet debate on fourplexes, one source put it this way: “Ultimately, what the premier wants, he’ll get.” 

Some Ontario municipalities have already chosen to move to allow more density, largely thanks to the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund. The $4-billion program essentially pays cities to end exclusionary zoning. 

Since federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser started cutting cheques last September, he’s inked deals with 19 Ontario mayors worth over $1.3 billion. Over half of Ontario’s population now lives in cities working towards implementing more permissive zoning regimes. 

While the program’s been very successful, provincial action would’ve still made a big difference, according to Alex Beheshti, a senior consultant with the Altus Group, a construction and real estate consulting firm.

“Many municipalities have either already gone to four units, like Toronto and Mississauga, or are in the process of doing so under the federal Liberal housing program. The province moving to four units would have been helpful to many municipalities in their work on upzoning and would’ve represented the province catching up to where cities are already headed towards.”

But Calandra told reporters at Queen’s Park that he’s not going to “micromanage” municipalities. 

“Those municipalities, those that have the ability to do it, I encourage them to do it,” Calandra said of as-of-right fourplexes.

The housing minister also said that Bill 23’s change creating as-of-right triplexes provincewide “hasn’t been as successful as we would have liked it to have been.” Less than 21,000 new units have come as a result of the late 2022 law change, according to Calandra.

Meanwhile, Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie said he was a “little bit shocked at first hearing” the premier shut down four units as of right.

“I thought everybody was on the same page when it came to more density and housing options within Ontario, and that includes not focusing on only the single-family detached home or townhouses but allowing more density options within our existing built-up areas, so that we can try to accommodate more people in different types of units,” said Guthrie, adding that his council has voted in favour of allowing four units, though not four storeys, as-of-right across the city. 

He said that while there is merit to saying that municipalities know best, the province can’t keep saying Ontario is in a housing crisis, “and then not make the tough decisions that need to be made.”

“Every person really knows full well that the more as-of-right allowances that are mandated from a provincial government across the province will help give clarity and certainty to not only municipalities, but to developers so they can get shovels in the ground and get it done faster and not have things tied up,” he said, adding that he would be in favour of both four units and four storeys as-of-right across the province. 

Opposition leaders and MPPs also denounced Ford’s comments. 

"Doug Ford’s Conservatives aren’t serious about building the housing Ontario needs. This is a NIMBY government that only cares about looking out for their rich friends and well-connected insiders,” Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie said in a statement.

Crombie used her strong mayor powers in her final move as Mississauga mayor to push a fourplex proposal through city council to get federal funding. 

NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the move a “gut-punch” for all the Ontarians unable to afford a home. 

“Today, the premier told Ontarians that if you cannot afford a single detached home, you are not welcome in your neighbourhood,” she said. 

"Legalizing four-storey multiplexes will unlock immense housing potential right across our province,” Stiles said. 

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said if the government is serious about building affordable homes, they should “get rid of outdated planning laws that keep us from building apartments, multiplexes and other types of missing middle housing.”

Schreiner introduced a bill, the Homes You Can Afford in Communities You Love Act, in November that would allow four-unit and four-storey buildings as-of-right in residential neighbourhoods. The bill is currently sitting before a legislative committee. 

He called the funding the government announced on Thursday a “drop in the bucket” of what municipalities need to build more homes. 

Premier Doug Ford announces funding for municipalities in Richmond Hill on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Sneh Duggal/The Trillium

In advance of the province’s budget release on March 26, Ford announced on Thursday more than $1.5 billion in new “housing-enabling infrastructure” funding.

This includes $1 billion for a Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program, which will go towards road, water and other infrastructure projects needed to build homes in growing communities. The government said more details on the program will be released later this year. 

The province is also adding $625 million to its Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund, for a total of $825 million over three years. The fund is aimed at helping municipalities fix and expand drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure in order to build homes. 

“With this new funding, even more municipalities will hit their housing targets,” Ford said. 

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, who was also at the press conference on Thursday, thanked the government for the infrastructure funding.

But in response to a reporter’s question, Meed Ward, who is also the chair of Ontario’s Big City Mayors, stressed another ask — a “new deal” for municipalities across the province after the province struck one with Toronto last year. 

As part of the deal with Toronto, the provincial government agreed to take over the costs of the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. 

“The deal that we have was built 100 years ago, when really the challenges that municipalities faced were potholes and maybe some roads, and now we are dealing with mental health, with addictions, with homelessness, with the refugee crisis, and of course, now a housing crisis and many more,” said Meed Ward. “None of those issues were contemplated 100 years ago for municipalities to deal with on the property tax base when this structure and system was set up.” 

She said the new infrastructure funding is a start towards their ask for a “new deal” and implored both the provincial and federal governments to act. 

Ford didn’t commit to new agreements, but said his government is “always going to partner with our municipalities” and that Toronto has “unique needs.”

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