Shortage of Planners Does Not Bode Well for Home Building Industry

by Richard Lyall on 28 Jun 2023


Over the past few years, residential developers have had to contend with a perfect storm of obstacles, namely COVID, labour shortages, material supply issues, inflation, and rising interest rates. 

Now, they face yet another equally disturbing situation – one that does not bode well for building homes.

There is presently a significant shortage of city planners across Ontario municipalities. The planning workforce is being depleted, and the supply of new talent is not keeping up with demand. Data from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) indicates that, as of April, there were about 150 job openings in Toronto alone. Roughly 750 positions are posted on the OPPI job board each year.

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), a nationwide professional organization, has seen an increase in the number of job openings for planners on its job board. The organization reports that job postings spiked by 78 per cent from 2020 to 2021, and by another 53 per cent from 2021 to 2022.

Although planning programs at Ontario universities graduated 439 planners last year – 185 with Bachelor’s degrees, 246 with Master’s degrees, and eight with PhDs – that number is still short of requirements. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark noted in a media article that the number of graduates is not enough to keep up with the number of annual job openings. What it also means is that the province faces significant challenges as it seeks to fulfill its promise to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.

A municipal benchmarking study of the Greater Toronto Area done in fall 2022 by Altus Group indicated that municipal staffing in planning departments has increased only marginally in the past two years. The study also notes that municipal approval timelines in the GTA are among the worst of major municipalities across Canada, and have deteriorated significantly when compared to a study done in 2020 figures. Average timelines are 27 to 51 per cent longer than those reported in 2020.

Toronto planning department


Approval timelines range from 10 to 34 months, depending on the municipality, with most types of applications taking 20-24 months on average GTA-wide. Average approval timelines in the GTA are higher than in any other part of Canada. In Toronto, it takes 32 months on average to approve a development application.

A report by Toronto’s planning department in 2020 indicated the city had about 60 unfilled positions in a 477-person department. About 25 per cent of the department’s staff came on board in 2020, so there are a lot of new faces.

Meanwhile, in the City of London, ON, a report indicated that city hall was short 12 staffers in planning and development in 2022, and project approvals are slowing. As a result, some work has not proceeded.

Part of the problem, of course, is the job itself. Planners often find themselves in the position of having to attend and face off with angry residents at community meetings held mainly in the evenings. The other issue is wages, as planners can make more money working in the private sector. Meantime, slowdowns also occurred during the pandemic, with many planners working from home.

Minister Clark has reached out to Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton and Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop to help solve the problem. The thinking is that a plan is needed to attract more recruits to the profession, particularly in northern Ontario.

According to media reports, Clark has asked McNaughton and Dunlop to meet with the OPPI to see how their departments could help. Possible solutions include making it easier to accredit planners who’ve been trained outside Ontario, as well as expanding university training programs in the province.

To ensure residential projects keep moving through the pipeline, we must ensure there are enough planners on hand – and in the pipeline to replace those who will soon be retiring. A shortage of planners at Toronto city hall is one of the reasons it takes so long to get a project approved.

The labyrinth of approvals and logistical hurdles

In Toronto, a new Housing Action Plan was passed by the city council that introduced a broad range of initiatives to either meet or exceed the provincial target of building 285,000 housing units over 10 years in the municipality. That goal will be in jeopardy if there aren’t enough planners on board.

The longer the approval process, the more time a housing developer must spend sitting idle on a project, which costs thousands of dollars per month. A study in 2022 done by Altus Group found that each month of delay costs anywhere from $2.60 to $3.30 per square foot in additional construction costs. For an 800-square-foot condo, this means that six months of delays can add between $12,480 and $15,840 to the price. That expense is passed on to homebuyers. 

The labyrinth of approvals and logistical hurdles that developers must navigate to get shovels in the ground on a residential project is complicated enough. A shortage of planners won’t help matters.

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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