More Ontario residents won’t be able to afford homes if the provincial government’s Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt proposal becomes law. That’s the position of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) and Greater Toronto Home Builders’ Association (GTHBA), who are calling on the government to reconsider its legislation to slow growth in the GTA.
“We’re asking the government to also focus on the big picture,” said Ron Abraham, president of the Toronto Real Estate Board. Abraham said that REALTORS believe that growth management is critical to maintaining a high quality of life, but “enhancing the GTA’s quality of life will be irrelevant if people can’t afford to live (there).”
The government introduced the greenbelt protection legislation on October 28th in an attempt to address urban sprawl around the Golden Horseshoe. Under the proposal, development will be banned or dramatically curtailed on about 1.8 million acres of land surrounding Toronto and its neighbours. It will run from Rice Lake – which is southeast of Peterborough – to the Niagara Peninsula.
“Within the greenbelt area, our plan will set strict limits on where urban boundaries can and cannot expand,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. “Areas not currently zoned for urban development will be protected. This means no new subdivision paving over our valuable farmland. It means no new shopping malls carved out of our forests.”
The government also has plans to use the locations of sewer and water lines, highways and transit routes along with electricity transmission lines to direct growth into specific centres rather than following growth where developers choose to build homes, businesses and shopping centres.
The GTA is one of the most expensive places in the country to live, according to TREB. While there are still affordable pockets, TREB and the GTHBA are concerned that the provincial restrictions on land will eventually mean that only high density housing will be affordable to most people.
House prices will rise
A GTHBA survey of about 500 Toronto and suburban GTA residents reveals that the public does not want to live in the “higher density housing in compact neighbourhoods” that the provincial government is proposing in its growth management plan.
The plans are out of step with the general public: 65 per cent of Toronto and suburban GTA residents polled in September said they would “definitely” or “very likely” move into a single-family home.
Fifty-five per cent of respondents also said: most new high-density, high-rise buildings should be located in downtown Toronto and not in the suburbs; 61 per cent said that higher-density housing is not appropriate for their neighbourhood or community.
According to GTHBA President Mark Parsons, the poll, conducted by Navigator Limited, also revealed that the top growth-related concern on the minds of the public is transportation gridlock. Seventy-four per cent of respondents said that expanding public transit and roads and highways were the best solutions to the gridlock challenge, while just 22 per cent said that limiting urban sprawl or encouraging more people to live in the city were the best solutions.
The overwhelming majority of respondents (81 per cent) believe that if the province restricts traditional suburban development, housing prices will rise. If that occurs, half of respondents said they would just stay put and not buy the kind of home the government prefers. More than one-quarter said they would move out of the GTA to get what they want.
“That means that new home sales would falter, growth would not be accommodated, and we’d see leapfrog development that would actually lead to more commuting and more traffic congestion,” Parsons said. “Denying consumer choice has serious ramifications for everybody.”
Parsons added that home builders understand and appreciate the provincial desire to curb urban sprawl, protect environmental and agricultural lands and maximize existing investment in infrastructure. “The home building industry shares the same concerns, but we are equally concerned with housing affordability and choice as well as continued economic growth and prosperity, and we’re looking for the province to strike that very careful balance.”