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RESCON Hopes Housing Pilot Will Set Stage for Province-wide Program

by Richard Lyall on 26 Oct 2022

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has stepped up with $2.35 million for a pilot in Simcoe County that could set the stage for an Ontario-wide digital development approvals process.

The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON), along with AECO Innovation Lab and organizations in the One Ontario coalition are excited about the venture. It’s something that RESCON has been working on for the better part of eight years to help speed up residential development.

The CMHC funds will be used to implement a centralized, one-window digital platform to modernize the residential development approvals process in Simcoe County and move forward with a technology solution to streamline pre-construction processes and help get housing built faster.

AECO collaborated and partnered with regulatory organizations, the county, municipalities, conservation authorities, key agencies, and others to develop a blueprint to implement the platform.

A strategy has been developed that will remove barriers, eliminate data silos, and ensure applications can be processed more quickly to improve housing affordability in the region.

The venture will include a data exchange platform to enable the transfer of information between groups, application tracking to support applicants and inform policy decisions, and a workflow engine to develop a seamless process that will improve efficiency, reduce errors and lead to better communication on files between municipalities, Indigenous communities, and others.

Presently, up to 45 agencies and groups outside a municipality may be involved in reviewing, commenting on, or approving an application.

Processes for residential projects are presently lengthy and complex which results in increased costs that lead to higher housing prices, lower supply, and fewer affordable housing units. For example, a 125-unit high-rise incurs $276,000 in extra costs due to loan-carrying charges, increased municipal charges, and inflation for every month of delay, while a 125-home low-rise development incurs $456,000.

A more efficient system will reduce those costs. Plus, it will result in municipalities receiving property taxes and fees from projects earlier. The additional revenues can be spent on initiatives such as creating inclusive places within communities or supporting more affordable housing projects.

Streamlining communications will make the process easier for all parties and provide certainty for developers. Presently, every municipality has different requirements for development applications.

A regional development application manager will be used for the county’s workflows, document control, drawing reviews, and tracking the applications better.

Simcoe County is perfect for the pilot as the region has a mix of urban, rural, and Indigenous perspectives. It is also becoming a hub for innovation and cutting-edge technology related to housing. Plans are in the works in Innisfil for The Orbit, a next-generation, master-planned, transit-oriented community focused on sustainability. The smart city, to be built near Sixth Line and 20th Sideroad, south of Alcona, is designed to provide 150,000 residents with everything they need.

The pilot project is therefore a good fit for Simcoe County. We are hopeful that the province will see the value of the initiative as Ontario must be at the table if it is to be rolled out across the province.

Other jurisdictions around the world have effectively streamlined their development application and approvals systems, so there is significant international precedent and best practices that can be adopted. 

There is still a lot of work to do and solving the housing crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. However, with the Simcoe County pilot, we are confident that we are heading in the right direction.

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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