$4 million at stake in housing ‘start’ definition spat between Clarington and Ontario government


Published April 10, 2024 at 2:01 pm

New housing starts in Bowmanville

A dispute with the Province over how it interprets housing data will cost Clarington at least $4 million in unpaid bonuses this year and has left a bitter taste in the mouth of council, with Mayor Adrian Foster saying he is “exceptionally disappointed” in the provincial government in how it has handled the situation.

Ontario’s large communities were all asked to sign a housing pledge in the fall of 2022 to meet the Province’s target of building 1.5 million homes over the next decade. Clarington was assigned 13,000 new homes as its share of the target.

Ten months later the Province unveiled the Building Faster Fund, which would provide $400 million in incentives to municipalities which met those targets, with those bonuses tied to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data.

On December 18, 2023 Clarington’s Chief Building Official confirmed to Council the target had been met, which made the municipality eligible for $4 million in funding through the fund.

But not so fast, said the Province, as newly named Housing Minister Paul Callandra sent a letter to Foster – on Valentine’s Day, no less – that declared Clarington had not met the eligibility criteria and would not be receiving any funding.

Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster

“The letter essentially said we were out of luck,” Foster said at Monday’s General Government Committee meeting, where Council passed a resolution asking the Province to “stop using CHMC data” to validate housing starts.

At issue is how the bonuses are paid out, with a major discrepancy between the CMHC and the municipality on what is a housing ‘start.’ The CMHC defines it as the beginning of construction work on a building and the Province used that definition to state Clarington had only 250 housing starts in 2023, a number staff noted in its report to Council Monday as “clearly inaccurate,” citing two buildings in Bowmanville with 440 units that got underway last year.

Callandra’s letter initiated a back-and-forth between Foster and the Housing Minister’s office, with Foster responding to the minister February 23 with data demonstrating each of the housing unit starts in Clarington last year.

On March 7 Clarington staff met with CMHC staff to discuss the discrepancy and “hopefully address it at a staff level.” The meeting did not provide a positive resolution for the municipality and Clarington staff said as much in their report – titled ‘The Perfect Storm – Impact of Provincial Changes on our Community’ – to committee Monday.

“Despite meeting our housing target, as set by the province, the government is unwilling to intervene in our dispute with CMHC, a calculation error on their part, that has not only made the community ineligible for 2023 funding – but will impact eligibility for remaining years of the program.”

Ontario Housing Minister Paul Callandra

Staff also noted the report there is “no evidence” to support the current approach as a tool to improve affordability. Instead, it “arguably diverts funds from community development to the developers.”

The municipality will now be forced to hire a consultant to “fully assess” the impact and new secondary plans may be required.

Foster said in the chambers Monday that work on a dozen of those secondary plans began “well before any housing targets” and a “significant amount” of staff time and resources is now “potentially wasted.”

“This will further impact our ability to meet the housing pledge.”

The impact of Bill 23 alone is estimated to result in the loss of $74.3 million in development charges over the next decade and Clarington voted on Monday to launch a communications campaign explain the impact of the changes that are “beyond our control” and how they will impact the community now and in the future.

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