When it comes to putting obstacles in the way of new housing construction, municipalities in the GTA are leading the way.
The approval timeline for a project in Toronto was a whopping 32 months in 2022, up from 21 months in 2020.
Presently, GTA municipalities are among the 10 lowest-ranked regions in Canada when it comes to the approval process, the time it takes to get projects approved, and government charges per square foot imposed on new low - and high-rise housing development, according to a report by Altus Group.
These are terrible metrics.
Toronto was ranked 18th worst on the list of 21 municipalities, followed by Pickering in 19th spot, Bradford West Gwillimbury at 20th, and Markham in 21st place. When it comes to approval timelines, Toronto was 20th on the list, and for government charges, it was last on the list in 21st place.
Not exactly the kind of scenario that you want when you’re trying to bring much-needed housing on quickly.
Thankfully, there are some hopeful signs of action.
At RESCON’s recent annual general meeting, Associate Housing Minister Michael Parsa reiterated that the provincial government is laser-focused on building more homes by working with industry and stakeholders to put more shovels in the ground.
With 500,000 new Canadians coming to Canada each year, most of whom will settle in Ontario, the minister indicated the government is committed to the target of building 1.5 million homes over 10 years. He also acknowledged it will require commitment from industry and all levels of government.
In 2021, Ontario had the highest number of housing starts since 1987, and 13,000 were purpose-built rental units, but he said that is not enough and government must look at bold solutions to the crisis.
Ontario has taken enormous steps towards achieving the target with bold legislative action. We are hoping that the federal government will now come to the table and make investments in necessary infrastructure from some of the funds they’ve collected in HST on the sale of new homes.
In the City of Toronto, meanwhile, staffers have been directed to bring back a report in March on how to put a housing action plan into action that was passed by the council. We are hopeful that the council will do the right thing and still move ahead with the plan in spite of the resignation of Mayor John Tory.
To fully tackle Ontario’s housing supply crisis, though, we must adopt a digitized and standardized development approvals process and embrace technology such as digital twinning which can increase productivity, and enable the building of better housing and infrastructure, and transportation and road networks.
Sadly, we are not at the forefront of innovation. Canada ranks 34th out of 35 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in the length of time it takes to secure approval for a general construction project. The World Bank has ranked Canada 64th out of 190 countries in terms of construction permits. We also have the lowest housing supply amongst all the G7 countries.
Paul Smetanin, president of the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA), provided an overview at our annual general meeting of the benefits of digital twinning technology. He touted the benefits of embracing the technology and noted that digital twinning can help municipalities more accurately determine what needs to be done over time to meet their housing requirements.
Ontario is now dipping its toes into digital twinning. A $1.32-million One Ontario pilot is underway in Simcoe County that will explore solutions using digital twins to address economic, environmental, and social challenges such as sustainability and affordable housing. AECO Innovation Lab is partnering with four Canadian universities on the novel venture. The project was made possible by a Mitacs Accelerate Grants Program.
Essentially, digital twins enable the design community to create a replica of a building in a virtual form, allowing professionals to study changes in behaviour and building interaction when plans are revamped. The technology can help address the housing and infrastructure needs of communities.
Digital twinning is increasingly being used by the automotive, healthcare, systems engineering, and aerospace industries. Cities like Singapore, Shanghai, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Phoenix are using digital twinning to plan their developments, transportation networks, and electricity grids.
Our hope is that funding for the One Ontario program will be matched by the provincial government so it can be expanded to other regions.
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].