May 4, 2017 | Toronto Housing Supply
Let me start by making my point to those who regulate Toronto: Stop obsessing on the demand for properties, and start thinking about the supply of properties.
We’ve been all about taming the demand for close to a decade now. This desire to throw a bucket of water on the demand for housing has intensified over the past several years culminating in the most recent bucket of water: Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan full of ideas to curb speculation, control rent and add a 15% foreign buyer tax, among many other new rules.
It’s not the government’s first kick at the can when it come to regulating the real estate industry. The government has rolled out one policy after another to tame the wild beast of demand. In 2016, they picked on first-time buyers who required insured mortgages with less than 20% down to qualify for a mortgage rate higher than the bank’s posted rates.
The problem, of course, is that the supply side of things has received very little attention. And really, this is where a great deal of attention should be placed. To put this into perspective, we have seen the number of new homes added to the Toronto area plummet. In March of 2017, Toronto added 10,153 new properties to its stock of homes. Compare that to March of 2016 when 21,006 new properties were added. That’s less than half as much new product added to a hungry market. Is anyone surprised that prices went up between March of 2016 and 2017? We would effectively need demand to fall by half to have a more balanced market.
From another perspective, if I go back to March of 2007, according to BILD, there were 11,802 new detached houses built in the Toronto area. For March of 2017, it was 233.
Despite these stats, I think the notion of supply coming down in Toronto is a hard one for Torontonians to wrap their heads around. Most of us are aware that developers and city planners alike are pushing for higher density living. Many may prefer detached houses and town homes with yards, but condos are what is usually built. A few years ago, there were concerns that condos were in oversupply. There were worries that all the new condos coming to market would flood the market and drive down prices. For many years, Toronto had the distinction of having the most condos added to the market of any city in North America.
Well, that was yesterday. Over and gone. Supply is needed from all property types, from houses to condos. So, here are some my ideas on how we could beef up supply:
1) QUICKER APPROVAL I’m of two minds here. We do need to keep developers in check from making ugly and poorly constructed buildings. Still, the time it takes to get something approved takes far too long, and there needs to be a quicker process in place.
2) THROUGH THE GREEN BELT Many have argued that Toronto’s restrictive land use policies with the Green Belt has caused prices to rise by preventing developers from building on protected land around the GTA. This may be true to a certain extent, but if we free up the Green Belt to developers, we would have a temporary fix. It would free up some land that would be quickly gobbled up in an estimated 10 years. And then we would lose our green spaces, compromise our our food security, and possibly endanger a few species along the way. We should focus the development past the Green Belt with better and quicker transit links. Let’s not kid ourselves that some of the hottest markets effected by Toronto are beyond the Green Belt already, like Guelph and Barrie. Let’s make those links faster and more frequent.
3)LANE WAY HOUSING Come on, Toronto! Why is this taking so long? We need to allow for laneway house so that we can build on a lot of land that is being under-utilized in many owner’s back yards. The City needs to make this much more streamlined and easier just like Vancouver has done. Right now, one argument that fire trucks need the space in laneways so big trucks could move through the lane in case of a fire is lame. Have the City fund smaller fire trucks. That’s what is done in other cities. I don’t think laneway houses will add an avalanche to the supply side of housing, but it will do something. It will allow people to maximize their land use, create more rental properties or properties that could have a multi-use, like for aging parents in a separate home that is nearby.
Though some of these suggestions may be obvious, I will recognize that there is a problem with them. Timing. These are long term solutions. In other words, even if they were all put into action today, the supply would not rise for years. And long term solutions are really not a thing for most modern governments.
If you want to increase supply fast, here’s what I would suggest: Stop making policies that restrict supply.
The double land transfer tax for Ontario and Toronto with rising prices creates a very expensive tax when Torontonians sell then buy another property. When the value of your home rises so does the money that you will need to pay out if you decide to sell and buy another house. So, most people don’t sell, and stay put. This, in turn leads to less supply. If land transfer taxes were reduced or eliminated, I do believe, supply would rise as people would not lose out so much financially from selling and buying. Of course, the land transfer tax has been a needed injection of dollars for the government. So, we won’t see a change here any time soon.