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- 25 November, 2021 Unlocking Housing in Ontario: In Conversation with Minister Steve Clark
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November 25, 2021
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
Unlocking Housing in Ontario: In Conversation with Minister Steve Clark
Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Associate Vice-President, Humber College
Distinguished Guest Speakers
The Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Legislature Assembly of Ontario
David Oikle, President of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA)
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.
It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.
Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Associate Vice-President at Humber College. I'm your host for today’s virtual event, “Unlocking Housing in Ontario: In Conversation with Minister Steve Clark.”
I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. When it comes to our topic of conversation today, I was reflecting that when we talk about housing, we touch on many themes that are critical to advancing reconciliation, both in terms of acknowledging past actions and current realities. You can't speak about housing, without opening up conversations about locations, their unique histories, access and ownership, and our shared responsibility to care for the land. Delivering the land acknowledgement, for me, is always an important opportunity to reflect on the human connection to location, and we encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.
The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. And I would now like to take a minute to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the Empire Club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor OREA, the Ontario Real Estate Association. And thank you to our supporting sponsors, Diamond Corp, Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario, Ontario Home Builders Association, and Real Estate Education Programs delivered by Humber College. A big thank you as well to our season sponsors, Bruce Powered Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA and Waste Connections of Canada.
I want to remind everybody who's participating today, this is an interactive event. So, those attending live are encouraged to engage, by taking advantage of the question box by scrolling down below your on-screen video player. We've allotted some time for Q&A towards the end of the discussion that we'll be having. And if you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, you can use the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags displayed on-screen throughout the event. To those watching on demand at a later date, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.
It is now my pleasure to call this virtual meeting to order. I'm delighted to introduce and welcome to the Empire Club's virtual stage for the first time, the Honourable Steve Clark, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Member of Provincial Parliament for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. To learn more about Mr. Clark, please scroll down below your viewer and you can find his full bio. We'll be hearing today from the Minister about the challenges of housing supply and affordability, and how the provincial government is responding. Following Minister Clark’s remarks, I'll be joining him for a discussion, and we will definitely be including some questions from the audience. Minister Clark, over to you. Welcome.
The Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Legislature Assembly of Ontario
Thanks so much, Kelly, for that kind introduction. Good afternoon, everyone. I'm so pleased to be able to speak to you today about one of the most pressing issues facing Ontarians, housing affordability. We all know that Ontario has a housing crisis. That's no secret. And we also know that our government's housing policies are working to make housing more affordable, by increasing the supply of a full range of housing options. In 2020, the year after our Housing Supply Action Plan was implemented, More Homes, More Choice, Ontario had over 81,000 housing starts, which is the highest level in the last decade. In 2020, we also had 11,000 rental starts, the highest since 1992. And while these are great numbers for housing and rental units, we know that there's much more to do, because there are hundreds of thousands of Ontarians that now can find their own home at a price they need and deserve. Despite this progress, housing prices are still increasing, and they're out of reach for way too many Ontarians; this includes young families, seniors, people who know Ontario is the best place to live and work, but they still can't find a home that meets their needs. One of the biggest challenges we're hearing from Ontarians and municipal partners is that it takes too long for homes to be built, especially missing middle homes in existing neighbourhoods. And we know that their delays, particularly at the municipal level caused by duplication and red tape that are obstructing new homes from being built, which is shutting out Ontarians and their families from realizing their dream of homeownership. And that's why, since day one, we've been working closely with our municipal partners, to streamline planning, and unlock housing. This is a long-term strategy, that requires long-term commitment at all levels of government. And as our province moves forward towards economic recovery, our government wants to continue to help our municipal partners use the tools we have provided them, and work together to identify new opportunities, to help every Ontarian find the home that's right for them.
So, with that, I'm proud to announce that on December 16, Premier Ford and I are hosting a provincial-municipal housing summit. We have invited Ontario big city mayors and regional chairs to come together with the province, to look at what's working, and to discuss other opportunities for us to collaborate on building more homes and making housing more affordable for hardworking Ontarians. The summit is going to focus on ways to share data and increase efficiency in planning and approvals for housing, to support the importance of using existing planning and other tools, and also how can we work alongside one another to increase the supply of housing. We’ll also recognize some specific municipalities that are using tools well to increase housing, so we can share those best practices and lessons learned. Ultimately, the goal is to understand the pain points at the municipal level, as well as together with our province, and by the end of the summit, we want to leave with a collective understanding of what can be done to tackle the issues of housing affordability and emerge with a renewed public commitment to work together on tangible items.
Leading up to the ROMA conference, we'll also be hosting a special session in January with ROMA members, to discuss housing affordability with Ontario's rural municipalities, and the unique challenges and opportunities they're facing. At these meetings, we will explore how we can continue to use the policies that we've provided at the provincial level to make homeownership and rental more affordable, and more accessible. For example, under More Homes, More Choice, we're helping municipalities streamline processes, and accelerate approval timelines for official plans, zoning bylaws, plans of subdivision. We've also provided for a deferral of development charges, for both non-profit and rental housing developments, over several years, to enable these projects. And finally, we're using Minister’s Zoning Orders, or MZOs, as another tool at the request through a local council, to help critical local projects move at a pace Ontarians need and deserve. So, using MZOs we've helped to construct over 500 supportive housing units, and in total created over 46,000 jobs; but behind every bed we're creating, are real families, who are desperate for a safe and comfortable place to call home. Our government's focus on housing affordability complements our ongoing work on affordable housing for Ontarians who need and deserve a helping hand. Our government continues to unlock the full range of affordable housing options, including community and supportive housing. And through our Community Housing Renewal Strategy, and Ontario's response to COVID-19, we're providing more than $3 billion in this fiscal year, and last, and it includes over a billion dollars in flexible supports under our social services relief fund, to both our municipal, and Indigenous partners. The biggest investments of the province in our history, have resulted in the last several years. Through our strategy, we put in place measures to enhance safety, fill vacant units faster, and simplify rent-geared-to-income calculations. We strive to create a system with greater choice, for both homeownership and rental opportunities. Our government will continue to remove barriers to building homes, encourage innovation, collaborate with communities, all of which will make it easier for hardworking families and Ontarians to find a home that meets their needs, in their budget. We believe that all levels of government need to work together, so that every Ontarian can realize the dream of homeownership. So, thank you so much, Kelly. I'm looking forward to the questions. It's a fantastic turnout for my first stint at the Empire Club. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Thank you, Minister. And, yeah, so many things to—I have so many questions for you, so many things to jump into. But I think first of all, maybe we can just talk a little bit about this housing summit that you've just talked about, that's going to happen. And, you know, it struck me, as you look through a number of the sort of documents and plans that your governments talked about, is that you talk about collaboration, right? And the fact that it's not just your government alone that can tackle the housing crisis. So, do you want to talk a little bit more sort of about some of those kind of collaborative relationships that have been built with municipalities?
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah, I think that's a great question. So, one thing during the pandemic, I believe our government's never been closer to Ontario's 444 municipalities. And, you know, we've decided to go ahead with this summit, which is very important, it's very important to the Premier; if you listen to him in question period, he talks often about sitting down with mayors to have this discussion. So, we'll start on December 16th, with Ontario's big city mayors, and regional chairs. We’ll also, the following month in January, because it's the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, or ROMA, we’ll sit down with rural mayors as well. But at the end of the day, what the Premier and I hope, is to build upon the collaboration that we've had throughout the pandemic with Ontario's municipalities. And we know that they agree with us, that housing is a priority at all levels. I've spoken many times to my federal colleague, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, about the community housing side, and the things that the federal government wants to put forward. You know, never in my lifetime, Kelly, have we had such a situation, where all three levels of government have placed housing, and housing affordability, and also community housing, as such a priority. So, we're really hoping to use the meeting in December as a springboard to some of the other measures we're talking about.
That's, yeah, I think just keeping this conversation going on so many fronts is going to be key to moving forward. I’m wondering a little bit about the community housing case; you just referenced it. And I know there's a Community Housing Renewal Strategy, and do you just want to talk a little bit more about that; and maybe you could give a sense to the viewers who are tuning in today, a little bit more about sort of what that entails.
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah. Prior to the government launching our Housing Supply Action Plan: More Homes, More Choice, we announced a Community Housing Renewal Strategy, because we needed as a government to put a plan in place to sustain, repair, and grow our community housing system, which was largely ignored by the previous government. It's very, very important that we work with our 34 service managers at the municipal level, also our two Indigenous program administrators, to not just repair what we have in the system, but also to put our regeneration plan in effect. And we've had tremendous uptake by our municipal partners, as I said in my short address, the Social Services Relief Fund that we were able to distribute to municipalities during the pandemic, have gone a long way to stabilize our system, but now we're looking at more long-term, sustainable projects from our municipal partners. And many of them feel the supportive housing bucket is really the way to go, because it provides that wraparound services that I think people need at the time. And I know that Minister Hussen and I have spoken about it at the federal level; they just announced in their Throne Speech about a Municipal Accelerator Fund, which I think works very closely with many of the measures that we've done over the last 20 months with municipalities with non-profits, with people in the co-op sector and others. But we need to give them that stability, we need to make sure that some of them will have their mortgage agreements coming due very soon. It provides some anxiousness and some anxiety, because at the end of the day, we could lose up to 100,000 units out of our community housing system, that as far as our government’s concerned, that can't happen. We need to make sure that we provide the resources to municipalities so that they can keep those units in the system, and expand further. So, the Community Housing Renewal Strategy is very, very important for our government, moving forward.
I think one of the other interesting things that we've seen is some innovation when it comes to working with some of the municipalities around, I think, creative solutions, and different ideas of, you know, sort of how to get at different types of housing needs. And one thing I was really struck by recently, was the announcement about the work with the City of Kingston and the Tiny Homes Project, supporting veterans. I don't know if many people necessarily would know much about that. And I know it's not a huge project, but I thought it was just a great little example of something different, and something that maybe you wanted to share about; just that collaboration with municipalities.
The Hon. Steve Clark
Thanks for that. It's a very exciting project, and we've been working with the Homes for HeroesFoundation for a number of years. They've got successful projects in Calgary, and they're just getting ready to open the one in Edmonton, I think next week, which is very exciting. My son's a police officer in the City of Edmonton, so I'm hoping over the holidays to maybe see my grandkids who haven't seen in two years because of the pandemic, but I'm hoping to go out and maybe stop by the tiny homes village. But the development in Kingston is on Ontario Government-owned land; we're going to be using it for a veteran's village, the first in Ontario, which will provide up to 25 tiny homes. But more importantly than the safe place to call home, is those wraparound services, because this is a program that, at the end of the day, after a couple of year period, we hope the veteran is integrated back into their home, or into another stable way for, you know, in terms of making sure they have a safe, stable place to call home. And I did a Minister’s Zoning Order on it, which basically will cut a couple of years off the project. In fact, the CEO of Homes for Heroes said at the announcement on November 10th, that this is the fastest any of his projects have moved forward in Canada, so that made me feel good, because we owe these veterans a safe stable place to call home. It's a very innovative concept with the with the tiny homes, but at the same time those services delivered on-site for those vets that were either homeless or were at the risk of being homeless. It's a tremendous project, and I want to thank both the Foundation, but also the City of Kingston, for all the work the council and city staff have been tremendous; we owe them a real vote of thanks for standing up for those that put their lives on the line for us.
Thanks for sharing more the details about that, it’s really interesting. And I think many people are going to be watching to see how it unfolds and see, you know, what opportunities there may be to replicate that kind of model elsewhere. You did just mention MZO, Ministerial Zoning Order, and, you know, I think that's definitely something that we've seen a certain amount of coverage about, and so I think it would just be great, you know, to hear from you a little bit more about those. So, you know, are those sort of short term tools, is that a longer term strategy? Sort of, you know, where does the Ministerial Zoning Order sort of fit in with the work that's going on right now, in terms of how the Province is responding to the supply issue?
The Hon. Steve Clark
Well, it's a very important tool, Kelly, because, you know, we are in a housing crisis, we're in a severe shortage of supply, many Ontarians can't realize the dream of homeownership. So, it's a tool that's been around since the ‘70s. We've used it a lot in the last 20 months; it's been able to, in the middle of the pandemic, create an opportunity to expand Sunnybrook Hospital. You know, we’ve, through an MZO alone, as part of our long-term care strategy, and we want to build or renovate 30,000 long-term care beds—the previous government built 611 in 15 years—just the MZOs alone that I've signed to fast-track those long-term care beds: it's 3700 beds. So, it's a significant amount of our strategy have been facilitated through this accelerated process. And you know, don't get me wrong, the MZO piece covers zoning. There are many, many other aspects—as I'm sure people that are watching know—of the development approval process. Councils are still in the driver's seat, because it's, an MZO starts with a resolution from a council, but it doesn't take away the council's responsibility for public consultation, for Indigenous consultation, it doesn't deal with the permitting or the site plan. So, there are a number of roles that the municipality still needs to do, to make sure that shovels can get in the ground. The MZO is simply a piece that we've used for, you know, job creation, new housing development, LTC, like I've said, but it does only cover the planning process. But, you know, people need to realize that the people that are in the driver's seat are the men and women on our local councils who have chosen a priority project, passed a resolution, and then asked myself to consider putting an MZO. And, you know, we've been very clear, we want to hear from municipalities, we want them to do their due diligence, where we're not going to approve any MZO request in the Greenbelt, which I think is a very important piece of the Ministerial zoning process. But you know, councils still need to do their due diligence, and I've challenged some of them to make sure that they do their consultation, and I think I used in the House, you know, they need to make sure they dot their i's and cross their t's. So, we're going to hold our municipal partners accountable for those requests as well.
Yeah, I mean, I think certainly this idea of the due diligence is critical, right? Before things come up to the Province. I know one of the other things that's come up around the MZO, and you just mentioned the Greenbelt, is that conversation around sort of the environmental assessment piece, and protections? And, you know, I just wondered if you wanted to speak a little bit about, you know, that aspect of this whole issue, right? Because we have, you know, a major supply issue, and at the same time, we all recognize that there are parts of the province that we want to make sure that we're protecting. And then on top of that, we're all dealing with the reality of climate change, and Climate Action Plans, and trying to understand how all of these pieces can come together. Do you want to talk a little bit about sort of some of the things you've observed, since you've been in your role around this?
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah, there's no question that people value our Greenbelt, and our green space. Most Ontarians feel like I do, that when we build new housing, we have to, as well, have green space for our citizens to enjoy the one thing that I think we all agree, because of the pandemic, is people have a renewed sense of being outside and enjoying nature. And I think we can have a balance, I've said this many times; I think we can have the housing supply issue dealt with, but at the same time, renew our commitment to green space as part of development. I, you know, we are steadfast as a government, by not providing an MZO opportunity within the Greenbelt, because it is so important. But at the same time, we have to recognize that everything we're doing as a government is trying to deal with the supply issue in the province; we have a severe supply shortage, demand continues to outpace supply, and it's not just in the GTA, it's everywhere in the province. You know, I look at my own riding, I'm in Brockville right now at my constituency office, and we have a severe housing supply problem in my riding; I can talk to Northern Ontario, you know, MPPs and mayors. We have a supply issue everywhere in the province, and we need to use every tool at our disposal to get shovels in the ground. And that's exactly the kind of conversation we're going to have with big city mayors in December, and rural and northern mayors in January.
QUESTION & ANSWER
I think that's actually a great segue into our first question, I’ve got some audience questions here, and maybe I’ll just do the first one.
The Hon. Steve Clark
I'm not going to invoke question period and not answer the question. So, I'm gonna try my best to answer the question.
So, Minister, what do you feel municipalities will need to do, in order to address the issues related to adequate housing supply, to accommodate the province’s population growth forecast?
The Hon. Steve Clark
That's a great question. So, we've challenged the municipalities in the greater Golden Horseshoe, we've set up as part of our Land Needs Assessment for them to forecast not just population growth, but what are they going to need on the housing supply stock to 2051. That's the longer-term decision by councils, to work with their staff on those Land Needs Assessment, look at that 2051 date. But we also know that today, we have a housing supply problem. So, the issue isn't going to be solved 30 years from now, we've got to put a plan in place not just for the long term, but also for the short term, and what municipalities are saying to us is something that I think we all already know: that it takes too long to get shovels in the ground as part of the development process. So, one of the things that the Premier really wants to look at, and so do I, is the whole process from start to finish, from the fact that you've got to go to a council, you know, and get the zoning issue dealt with—unless you ask for an MZO—you're dealing with site plans, you're dealing with permitting, you're dealing with other agencies, like conservation authorities, and there's a whole bunch of different players involved in ensuring that shovels are in the ground to that process. We want to review that process, see if there's anything the Province can do to make it easier in the short term, and is there anything that municipalities need as resources from us in terms of regulation or legislation to help make it easier. So, it is both a short-term and long-term process, but make no mistake, we're not waiting 30 years to fix this problem. We want to put a plan in place today, as a government, to deal with the fact that there are many Ontarians that don't, you know, they can't see the dream of homeownership in reach, there’s seniors who can't get that resale value of their house to put themselves in to a downsize unit. So, there's a lot of things in play here, that I think all three levels of government need to look at. We're going to focus on the mayor's meetings on housing affordability, I'm going to continue to work with my federal colleague on some of the affordable housing initiatives that they promised in the federal election. I'm also going to ask for our fair share, because I think, based on our core housing need, were shortchanged about $490 million, but it's—we're going to work collaboratively, but it is a problem that we need to get to today. There are lots of units in the process today, in municipalities, that we're going to need to find out how can we unlock them and get shovels in the ground?
Picking up on this theme around, you know, on the one hand we've got a problem today, what are we going to do today; and we know also projections. I've got a question here from Lex. And so, Lex is asking about, you know, the fact that we're expecting 400,000+ immigrants in 2021, and the same for the next few more years. And so, you know, will the same, or will the current policies that we have in place, will they be able to meet this new demand, and the domestic demand? And I think what we're hearing from you is, you know, this is part of why you want to get together and keep having this conversation with municipalities around what policies need to change, what do we need to do, how can we streamline things, improve things. Is that fair?
The Hon. Steve Clark
That's exactly right. The question really hits the nail on the head in terms of where we're at right now. There's a severe supply shortage, there are a number of people who are coming to Ontario, or who live in Ontario today, who can't find a home that meets their needs, and their budget. So, we need to look at all of the tools we've given municipalities to deal with all the different types of housing. I mentioned in my address the missing middle, which I think is a is a very important piece, in terms of infilling in existing areas. But we also know that we need more housing outside of our urban boundaries. And while the Land Needs Assessment, will deal with that sort of 30-year look, we also know that there's a lot of projects—I spoke to a couple of mayors this morning, and just that conversation about what we're going to talk about in December, they were recalling projects in their own municipalities that have been stalled for a variety of reasons, and, you know, I think the Premier and I need to hear what are the pain points, what needs to be done to get them out. And, you know, those forecasts, whether they be the number of new Canadians coming to Ontario every year, or whether it's just simply the fact that there's not enough homes being built, of all types, to deal with supply, and it’s a challenge that we urgently have to put a plan in place for.
One of the things that I noticed when I was looking through the Action Plan on housing supply, and you know, some of the other things that your government’s come out with, is a real focus on transit-oriented communities, and sort of increasing the number of those, and really thinking thoughtfully about that kind of development. And that then bridges into, you know, your colleague the Minister of Infrastructure, and obviously the Minister of Transportation, and others, around the work that they're doing. And so, as you're thinking of, you know, we're talking about, you know, big city mayors, and obviously, there’s smaller cities, but sort of what are you hearing as you're talking to your municipal counterparts around transit-oriented communities, and sort of the need for those?
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah, I think Kelly, there's a lot of interest. Obviously, Minister Surma, she's done such a fantastic job in engaging municipal partners around the concept of transit-oriented communities, and the fact that, you know, in Toronto and York region, where are our priority transit projects are well over $25 billion, we have to leverage that asset. You know, people want to live and work in complete communities, where transit’s available. So, we've got to put a plan in place, working with municipalities, and, you know, different project partners, to be able to deliver on that. And we know, based on some of the consultations that we've done over the last three-and-a-half years, that if there's an area where people want to intensify, it's around transit. And people want to make sure that they've got, you know, a place to live, a place to work, and transit available. So, it's a very important concept that Minister Surma and I continue to work on, as I said, she's done just such a tremendous job as Minister to move this file forward. And, you know, again, if we're going to deal with our severe supply shortage, we're going to need to make sure some of those projects move by quickly. That was the reason why we made some of the changes on the enhanced Minister’s Zoning Orders, because it needs to be put in place under transit; we need to work very quickly. So, you know, there might be some that have criticized us for the speed in which we made those changes, but we're in the middle of a crisis, so we've got we've got to act fast. And I make no apologies for some of the things that I've done; we need to use every tool that we have at our disposal to move some of these projects forward. So, I'll be I'll be a continued partner with Minister Surma on the TOC file.
That's great to hear, I think that's definitely going to be a key part of managing growth and intensification going forward in this part of the province where I'm sitting today. You know, jumping, you know, you mentioned Toronto, you mentioned York Region, if we can jump over to Hamilton for a minute, because I've got a question about Hamilton.
The Hon. Steve Clark
I was just talking about them yesterday.
Absolutely. I think there's been a, you know, a bit of media coverage around the council decision there, around approving a No Urban Boundary Expansion. So, the question is just wondering about the Province’s response to this. I know you have been talking about this, but for viewers who are tuning in and aren’t aware, do you want to speak to that for a minute?
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah, I'd love to. So, I haven't received yet the proposal from the City of Hamilton, so I'm going to receive it, we're going to review it, give our due diligence. My message to Hamiltonians is, all options are still on the table. But when you look at the documentation that the City's provided with its own staff, it shows that their population projections will show there needs to be another 235,000 people leading up to 2051; and their own documents show that they can accommodate all that growth within the urban boundary. So, you know, I speak to the people in Hamilton that want to realize the dream of homeownership, and those people need a boundary expansion. So, while I appreciate the position of the council—I'll review their plan—my message to them is all options are on the table. But we are in a severe housing shortage. Hamilton, if you use the Oxford Study, shows it's one of the top five most expensive cities in North America. So, we need to do something, we need to be able to provide housing options, and the City's own documents show that an urban boundary expansion has to take place to accommodate population growth. But to the mayor and to the council, we need to continue to work together; I'm not closing my mind to things. You know, as I said, all options around the table. I'm going to give their plan due diligence, but I want them to know that, at the end of the day, everything we're asking of municipalities in the greater Golden Horseshoe is because of our housing, severe shortage.
We've got a number of questions that people in the audience are asking to do with vulnerable populations. And you know, how this housing crisis that we're in now, right? When we talk about the supply, you know, sort of what that looks like when we're talking about vulnerable populations. So, Bonnie was asking, for example, about people with developmental disabilities, and how we can make things more accessible and affordable for that group. And we also had a question coming in around people who, you know, wondering about lowest-income households and, you know, being able to find affordable or social housing, and increasing overall housing supply, how does that help them? So, maybe you could speak a little bit about sort of, you know, what you're doing around that piece around affordable housing for those who need some additional help, even to be able to access that, and people with developmental disabilities.
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah, and I do think that supportive housing is a real key initiative by the government that will deal with vulnerable populations, and people with disabilities. The challenge that our government has: we need to take an all of government approach. The supportive housing file, I have to tell you, I'm quite frustrated, because we have a number of Ministries, my Ministry, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Ministry of Health; we provide about 22 supportive housing programs, different ones in the Ministries. We spend probably about $2 billion dollars, and we only help about 45,000 people. So, we need to have a better-integrated system. It's not about taking money out of the system; it's about making money work better in the system. And there's got to be a way where we can do a better job with making sure people don't have to tell their story three times, depending on whether they're accessing a housing program, or a program under Health, or a program under Community and Social Services. There's got to be a way where we can avoid costs between the Ministries, and drive more efficiency within the provincial government, that at the end of the day, helps those who need it most. The other issue—and it goes back to my federal comment—we're the first province or territory that signed on to the National Housing Strategy; we're now in the midst of renegotiating for the first time, the NHS, and money is given out based on population. I can argue that Ontario, based on its core housing need—which is greatest of any province or territory—we should be getting, based on our core housing need, $490 million extra. So, if we got that money, if we received that recognition from the federal government, we'd be able to pass it along to our municipal partners, we'd be able to pass it along to our Indigenous program administrators, and we'd be able to get shovels in the ground. And the challenge that I've given all of our mayors, throughout the pandemic, with all those extra dollars that we've given them as a government for social service relief, we need to get long term, we need to get sustainable, and we need to have projects ready for when the federal government announces their initiatives that they promised during the campaign, that we're the first ones in line to get the money.
And as I said, I talked to Minister Hussen this morning. I'm not going to dwell on the core housing need; what I am going to dwell on is the fact that we're ready in Ontario, that when the federal government gets ready to implement their share, we'll be there, as part of our renegotiated National Housing Strategy, to work with our municipal partners, to get those long-term sustainable projects that they're going to have ready, because I've told them, we need to have those projects ready to be shovel ready. And I think that's my message to Ontarians, that yes, we're going to have a significant conversation around housing affordability—which is more of a private sector conversation—but we haven't forgotten non-profits, we haven't forgotten our 34 service managers, and our two Indigenous program administrators. They know that we're ready to work with them, and we've challenged them to get those solutions. And they've delivered; they've worked really, really hard over the last 20 months, despite all of the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to us, they've done a tremendous job in building new units, in renovating existing units, and ensuring that there's a safe, secure place to call home, in their in their areas. And, and I know that, you know, in my home riding, you know, it's been challenging, because they haven't been used to that type of financial commitment by the provincial governments, and they're not used to having a federal government that started a rapid housing initiative. So, you know, this again speaks to what I said earlier, we need to make sure that all three levels of government are working together, all three levels of government have a common focus and a common purpose. And we've had tremendous co-operation today, the last 20 months have shown unprecedented that we can all work together, we can put aside partisan differences, we can check our party colours at the door, and just work on making sure that people have a facility that they can live in, and that they can be safe. And that's, you know, that's my thanks to everyone over for their work over the last 20 months, including in my own Ministry, they've done a tremendous job.
Yeah, I think it's important to take a minute and recognize how much work has been accomplished, you know, during the pandemic, during times when everybody's dealing individual challenges, and so much disruption; and yet there has been a lot of progress made, you know, whether it's in the not-for-profit sector, or the private sector, or with the municipalities; I do think it's important to take that moment to recognize that. We have a couple of questions that have come in around homelessness, and thinking about specifically, you know, what can be done to improve housing options. So, I'll just give you a sense of what those are. So, one is around, you know, long waiting lists for subsidised housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and what plans there may be to address that? And then another question as well, around the by-name lists. So, somebody referencing that they've heard about these by-name lists, and just wondering if you could extrapolate a bit more, explain, like, what those are, and how they support people who are at risk or experiencing homelessness right now.
The Hon. Steve Clark
Yeah, for all the changes that we've made in community housing, you know, we've tried to simplify rent-geared-to-income, we've tried to create more of an access system instead of a waitlist; probably the one I'm most proud of is the by-name list. The system I inherited, the homelessness enumeration was a patchwork of decisions, every service manager seemed to use a different methodology; and I remember going to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference at a hotel near the airport, and I was amazed at some of the statistics on the wall about how municipalities were working diligently to end homelessness by 2025. And I asked, what was the common focus of all of those municipalities—and these were not just Ontario municipalities, they were Canadian municipalities—and it was the by-name list. And it was to create a list of individuals, and the needs that each individual required, to make sure that they're safe and secure. And, you know, I think it's going to be great in Ontario, that by the end of this year, we're all going to be using the same metric for homelessness prevention. And I think it puts us in a lot better situation, when every one of us in Ontario are using the same system; you're not having different systems used in different municipalities. And we ensure that the by-name list helps individuals; these are people, we need to help them, and we need to put a plan in place that gives them the services and the accommodation that they need. And for far too long, we didn't in this province, under, you know, all levels of government, all parties at the provincial level, allowed different systems to take place. And I'm a big believer in flexibility, don't get me wrong, I'm not on the ground in every community; so, the people that are, can make the decisions on how they spend their dollars. That's why we make programs like the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, and the Home for Good programs so flexible, because what's good and Brockville might not be good in Toronto or might not be good in Northern Ontario. So, but at the same time, when it comes to people, we need to use the same metric, we need to enumerate, and then put a plan in place to help people, based on a single plan. And I have all the faith in the world that the plan that we picked up, that was shown by a very credible organization like the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. So, I'm so glad that our municipal partners, who I’ve pushed, through the pandemic, to make sure that this list was in place by the end of the year. And I want to thank all of them for the work that they've done; this will make a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable for many, many years to come, because we kept the single system.
Thank you for taking us through a little bit of that journey, so we can better understand sort of what that piece is, and why it's so important. Just wondering, as well, if we can make sure we’ll—you know, we've probably got time for just a couple more questions before we have to wrap up today's session—but I don't think we've sort of specifically talked about rental housing. I know that you did reference it in your remarks, but just wondering if you could talk a little bit about sort of what measures that government's been taking, putting in place, in order to really support the building of more affordable rental, or just general rental options across the province.
The Hon. Steve Clark
Well, we know, Kelly, that there wasn't a lot of rental being built in the last 15 years. We campaigned in the 2018 election that we were going to protect rent control for existing renters. In the Fall Economic Statement in 2018, our Finance Minister, Vic Fideli at the time, we lifted the rent control exemption on new buildings. And the result was the fact that, as I said in my address, you know last year, despite the pandemic, we had 11,000 starts for rental, which was the highest figure we've seen since 1992; and that figure—whether you use CMHC, or Urban Nation, or RBC Economics—it all shows that we were at the highest level since the early ‘90s because of that decision. What we now have to do, is we now have to build upon that. We, as part of the Housing Supply Action Plan, as a government, allowed municipalities to defer development charges, to incent more rental housing, and affordable housing; and some municipalities, I have to tell you, I've taken advantage of it. One of the things that we're going to be asking them at our housing summit in December, and also in January, are are they using those tools? Are they incenting for more rental construction in their communities? I think it's key, I think there are a number of areas. Yesterday in the house, in my response to the Speech from the Throne—MPP Norm Miller talked about an event I was at in Gravenhurst, where, you know, I thought it was a modest rental building, but it was essentially increasing their rental stock by almost 40%, just one development of rental accommodation. So, you know, for a small community like Gravenhurst, this meant the world, and that council pulled out every stop to get that development approval process, so we could get shovels in the ground. So, there are political rockstars out there who see purpose-built rental accommodation as a very important piece. And again, one of the things we're going to be talking about in the next month is, are our municipalities using those tools? Do they need purpose-built, more purpose-built rental? And can they use some of the measures we've put in our Housing Supply Action Plan to get it done?
We started off our question-and-answer period talking about the summit that you announced. And maybe as we sort of bring the question-and-answer period to a close, we can turn to Andy's question here. And he, you know, it's pretty simple question; he just says, you know, what is what is your goal for the housing summit?
The Hon. Steve Clark
Well, yes, what does success look like? Well, success looks like, you know, we're bringing in every big city mayor, and also regional chairs, and we're focused on housing affordability. You know, we are still going to work with all three levels of government on that affordable housing piece—I've been pretty clear on that piece—but what success looks like is that we have an honest conversation on what the province needs to do to make sure that more housing gets built, to deal with our housing supply process. What also looks like a success, is when we have a number of large urban municipalities that can be showcased, that have actually put a good plan in place that can be duplicated in every corner of our province. And I'm not saying that we've done, there's much—I'm the first guy to admit, Kelly, that there's much more the province can do. What success looks like, is a very honest, collaborative conversation between municipalities and the province, if there are things I need to improve upon, if there are things that municipalities need to improve upon—which I think we all agree there is—that's what success looks like; that we have a collaborative meeting, and a plan moving forward on things that will change to help people get that affordable home, whatever it looks like, whether it's a rental or, you know, a family-sized condo, or detached, whatever it looks like for people, that we've got a plan in place that meets their needs and their budget. So, I'm excited, I think it is a good opportunity to get our big city mayors—and the Premier’s pumped, he's so excited about it—and I'm just looking forward to that on December 6th. So, thanks for having me here today; it's a great honour to be able to speak to the Empire Club, and I hope you'll have me back again.
Absolutely. It's been great to have you here, and to be able to, you know, share so many of the questions from our audience directly to you. And, you know, we always get so many more questions than we ever get time to get to them all, so I want to thank everybody for their engagement. I'm now going to ask David Oikle, who is the President of the Ontario Real Estate Association, who is our lead, exclusive sponsor for the event today, to join me and provide some appreciation remarks. David, welcome.
Note of Appreciation by David Oikle, President of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) Kelly, thank you very much, and Minister, it's very good to see you again, thank you. A big thank you to you for the very informative presentation today, and the look at Ontario's housing landscape, and for the excellent work that you and the Ford government have done on this front to increase housing supply, cut red tape, and get more homes on the market faster. Today, OREA is very excited to hear your announcement for the housing summit with mayors and regional chairs on December 16th, and then with Northern and rural municipal leaders; please let us know how OREA can assist. As you know, Minister, here at the Ontario Real Estate Association, we talk a lot about the value of homeownership, helping build stable communities, supporting families, and generating economic activity. And as both a realtor, and President of OREA, let me tell you, it is always great to hear from a Minister who both understands the role homeownership plays in our province, and who shares our goal of bringing the dream of homeownership to reality to more Ontarians. You very much understand that this is not just a Toronto issue, but an issue from Brockville, to Sarnia, to Thunder Bay. You know, fixing Ontario's affordability crisis starts with meaningful action to boost housing supply, and that, thanks to your leadership, Minister, that work is already underway. This is the most pro-homeownership government in Ontario in more than a generation. Since taking office in 2018, your government has incentivized development, increased housing and rental starts, reduced red tape, streamlined the approvals process, and most recently committed to striking a Housing Affordability Task Force. In 2020 alone, more homes started construction in Ontario than in any other year over the past decade—in the middle of a pandemic. The direct outcome of Minister Clark's initiatives, including the More Homes, More Choice Act, which incorporated 8 out of 10 OREA proposals to increase housing supply in the province. But we know further action is still needed. A combination of new pro-growth policies, supply increases, and changes to allow for a variety of affordable options for families, will be crucial in helping frustrated buyers and renters finally get the keys to their new home. So, on behalf of the Ontario Real Estate Association, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us today, on how we can continue to best address the housing crisis in Ontario; and we look forward to continuing the conversation into 2022, and beyond. Kelly, back to you.
Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thanks, David. I want to thank Minister Clark again, for joining us today. It's really exciting to hear about the summit that is going to be happening next month, and all of the other things that are in motion in order to continue to try to tackle this issue. It's definitely a topic that is near and dear to everybody's hearts, and I just want to really, you know, thank him again for coming today, and just speaking with us so candidly, and talking directly to so many of the questions we had from our audience. Our next event is on December 2nd, it's at noon Eastern Time. Please join us for a presentation and a panel discussion on open banking, and how it's becoming an essential choice for Canadians. More details, and complimentary registration, are available at empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. I wish you a great afternoon. Take care and stay safe.