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Wynne to meet mayors on housing affordability

Premier Kathleen Wynne is summoning Greater Toronto mayors and chairs to Queen’s Park to discuss measures to make housing more affordable.
Robert Benzie
April 11, 2017

Queen’s Park is promising relief for renters and homebuyers in the forthcoming budget.

As Premier Kathleen Wynne gathers Greater Toronto mayors and regional chairs for a summit Wednesday, Finance Minister Charles Sousa emphasized “we’re going to be taking action on the housing affordability issue soon.”

“It’s too urgent a matter,” Sousa said Tuesday.

While he declined to discuss specifics before a provincial budget expected April 27, he’s considering a slew of measures, including a British Columbia-style foreign buyers’ tax and a levy to discourage investors and speculators from sitting on vacant properties.

“I want to go after . . . what I call ‘property scalpers’ looking at taking advantage of speculation in the marketplace. We need to curb that activity,” said the treasurer, noting he is continuing to press federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau for tax changes to close other loopholes.

“All things are being considered.”

Sousa added he is still in the process of scheduling a meeting with Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory on housing affordability.

Underscoring the importance of soaring home prices and rents, the premier said she is meeting municipal leaders Wednesday afternoon to tackle the “the heightened concerns across all sectors.”

“We will soon be introducing a comprehensive package of measures to help more Ontarians find an affordable place to call home. We look forward to announcing more in the near future,” said Wynne.

“A strong housing market is reflective of Ontario’s strong economy, but we know affordability is a real and growing concern,” she said, referring to the anguish of both buyers and renters.

“Reducing the pressure felt by Ontarians, as well as providing more affordable options for people to choose from, is a priority for us and we’re serious about taking action.”

Ahead of Sousa’s budget, Wynne said the province wants to assure towns and cities that housing affordability is on the front-burner.

“While we’re committed to doing more, we have already taken steps to help more Ontarians get into the housing market. Short-term action, like freezing the municipal property tax on apartment buildings to provide relief to renters and doubling the maximum refund for first-time home-buyers, is helping right now,” she said.

“More long-term measures, like collecting more data to better understand Ontario’s housing market and giving communities the tools, through inclusionary zoning, to require affordable units to be created and maintained in new developments, will also help.”

House prices in and around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area have jumped 33 per cent over the past year, so there is mounting pressure on all levels of government to intervene.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown wants Wynne to act soon.

“I am calling on Premier Wynne to release whatever is in her rental-housing plan this week — not in the budget, not next month, but immediately,” said Brown, who also wants action on housing prices, on Monday.

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) is pushing a private member’s bill to make all buildings, not just those built before 1991, subject to rent control.

Housing Minister Chris Ballard said he would be beefing up protection for tenants “very soon.”

“It will be a robust package that will expand on rent controls.”