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Ending exclusionary zoning would boost the housing supply

by Richard Lyall on 06 Jun 2022

If we are to tackle the housing supply crisis, the game plan must include ending exclusionary zoning policies in municipalities to allow more density and missing middle housing to be built in residential neighbourhoods.

Current zoning policies in the City of Toronto, for example, are overly restrictive and limit what type of housing can be built and where.

Roughly 70 per cent of Toronto is zoned for detached houses only, which restricts the number of units that can be built and prohibits even modest forms of density such as triplexes or small apartment buildings in most residential neighbourhoods. Toronto must open these zones to intensification.

Such a move would certainly put a dent in the problem by helping to increase the amount of missing middle housing within the city.

Other countries and jurisdictions have had a lot of success with this type of approach. South of the border, states and municipalities have brought in zoning reforms that have positively affected housing supply and affordability.

In Oregon, for instance, a duplex or four-unit building can be built on any land previously zoned exclusively for single-family homes if it is in a municipality larger than 25,000 people. In California, the state passed ground-breaking legislation in 2017 to address its housing crisis and allow “upzoning” within traditionally single-family neighbourhoods to allow for the creation of more units.

In Minneapolis, exclusionary zoning has been abolished, and rents have declined, likely because it is easier to build for increased density.

Further afield, Tokyo now builds 100,000 homes a year in the form of buildings more than three stories high following major reforms, which resulted in supply and demand being balanced. The city prevented a shortage by building more and building up. The change was instigated by Japan’s national government, which assumed more authority over development rules and revised regulations to allow more density.

New Zealand, meanwhile, has gone full steam ahead with a new policy that allows property owners to build up to three units within a three-storey structure in five of its largest cities. The policy could increase the supply of new homes by nearly 50,000 to 100,000 in the next eight to 10 years.

In cities like Copenhagen and Barcelona, zoning changes have also helped integrate missing middle housing. There are now many buildings six to twelve storeys tall in areas once zoned for single-family homes.

There is plenty of support to end exclusionary zoning policies.

The provincial government’s Housing Affordability Task Force recently weighed in on the matter and recommended that exclusionary zoning be ended, which would allow more small apartments to be built.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is suggesting that a policy around inclusionary zoning be developed in partnership with municipalities, developers and builders to increase the supply of affordable housing.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade has similarly called on the province to prohibit single-family zoning in large and medium-sized towns and cities and establish standards to allow for at least four units in a building in all residentially zoned areas. Eight units or four to five-storey buildings would be allowed near transit stations. The framework would apply to all municipalities with 30,000 or more residents.

Some of our most cherished neighbourhoods in Toronto already have multi-family dwellings, and they don’t detract from the area. We should be able to build six-unit housing developments that are tasteful and a good fit with the existing typography and community in low-rise neighbourhoods.

There is no silver bullet to end the housing crisis, but ditching exclusionary zoning policies would be a good start.

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected].

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