Tensions between Ontario, federal governments flare on affordable housing

Click to play video: '‘Premier NIMBY’: Critics blast Ford after he rules out fourplexes across Ontario'
‘Premier NIMBY’: Critics blast Ford after he rules out fourplexes across Ontario
RELATED: Ontario Premier Doug Ford is shutting down efforts to introduce fourplexes in neighbourhoods across the province, calling the policy a “massive mistake” that would raise the ire of residents living in traditional single-family suburbs. Global News' Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello reports – Mar 21, 2024

A tense war of words is brewing between the Trudeau and Ford governments over how affordable homes are provided in Ontario, with the federal government saying hundreds of millions of dollars are at risk.

On Thursday, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser wrote to his provincial counterpart Paul Calandra to say there was an “urgent need” for the province to rewrite its affordable housing plans.

Fraser said that, if Ontario did not revise its plan under a bilateral agreement, it would miss out on $357 million in federal funding.

“Now is not the time for half measures on housing policy,” the federal housing minister wrote.

Calandra quickly replied, accusing the Trudeau government of choosing “to threaten our most vulnerable” by withholding funding.

“Ontario respectfully expects to be treated by the federal government as the true and equal partner,” Calandra wrote.

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“Withholding funding would simply be a punitive measure that will benefit no one.”

'Avoid a breach of the agreement'

The subject of the spat is federal funding under the National Housing Strategy Action Plan.

The plan is a 10-year agreement between the two levels of government initially signed in 2018. Under the agreement, Ontario has to submit regular explanations of how it plans to expand the supply of affordable housing in the province.

The latest action plan is set to run from 2022 to 2025, with a deadline to submit a blueprint extended by a year, Fraser said.

“Ontario’s draft 2022-25 Action Plan fails to meet these commitments and seemingly does not recognize the scale of the crisis playing out in the province,” the federal minister wrote.

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“Speaking frankly, the proposed Action Plan is a disappointment.”

Fraser said Ontario was failing to build new affordable housing units, claiming the proposal the province had submitted would see Ontario build just 1,184 of the 19,660 units it had been told to create by midway through 2025.

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“This leaves 94% of the target to be achieved during the last 3 years of the agreement, which is not realistic,” the letter said.

“Ontario is lagging desperately behind all other provinces and territories.”

Fraser said if a revised plan wasn’t submitted by the end of the day Friday, funding from his government would lapse. He said the federal government would need until the end of the month to analyze a new version of the plan.

'Carefully consider what I have presented'

In his reply to Fraser, Calandra said the federal minister had failed to take into account the changing economic landscape and areas in Ontario’s housing stock he argued are unique.

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“The federal position on NHS funding does not reflect some major factors that should be taken into account when considering what got us to this point,” Calandra wrote, pointing to rising costs, supply chains and labour issues.

He said Ontario had focused much of its effort on renovating old affordable housing units, arguing the province has the oldest and most dilapidated affordable housing in the country.

“By focusing on the repair backlog, Ontario has successfully staved off the risk to both affordability and availability of units for tens of thousands of families,” Calandra wrote.

He also pointed to a clause in the agreement between the two governments that allowed for the terms and targets to be dressed “based on progress made to date,” asking the federal housing minister to relent.

“I hope you will carefully consider what I have presented above and the attached NHS Action Plan that identify solutions that can address our mutual concerns,” Calandra wrote.

A spokesperson for Calandra said Ottawa was “playing politics” with the housing money.

“The federal government’s unfair demands do not recognize Ontario’s outsized role in providing social housing to Canadians and the unique structure we use to better deliver services through service managers,” they said in a statement.

Fourplex tensions

The exchange comes as the two governments also look set to embark on separate approaches to density in Ontario’s cities.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford this week appeared to rule out allowing fourplexes as of right across the province in new housing legislation, a move Calandra admitted he had considered.

At two separate news conferences, the premier said he felt that fourplexes and four-storey buildings would spark outrage in suburban communities. He said allowing them across the province would be a “massive mistake” if he let it through.

At a housing-related announcement in Richmond Hill on Thursday, Ford said the policy is “off the table” for his government after weeks of active discussions at Queen’s Park over whether to allow developers to build up to four units on a single property without municipal approval.

“I can assure you 1,000 per cent, you go into communities and start putting up four-storey, six-storey, eight-storey buildings right deep into communities, there’s going to be a lot of shouting and screaming,” Ford said.

“We are not going to go into communities and (building) four-storey or six-storey buildings beside residents.”

Calandra said Thursday he didn’t “intend to be dictating how municipalities should be meeting their goals” but said he had no problem with municipalities allowing fourplexes.

The federal government, on the other hand, is writing to cities across the country, offering them large sums of money if they agree to implement various zoning changes, including allowing fourplexes within their borders as of right.

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On Friday, as Ford reiterated his opposition, Fraser shared pictures of different configurations of fourplexes.

“Warning: the following images of fourplexes may frighten some politicians,” a social media post from Fraser’s official account said. “They want to make sure these family homes remain illegal to build.”


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