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Bid to encourage developers to build larger apartments in York Region fails

'We now have just this plethora of tiny condos and apartments throughout our region, and they’re of no value, or little value, to families,' Newmarket mayor says
May 6, 2022
Joseph Quigley

Newmarket’s mayor and other York Region councillors sought to encourage larger apartments through development charges but were ultimately unsuccessful in debate.

Council gave tentative approval to its development charges bylaw May 5. But debate emerged around the small-apartment threshold of the bylaw at 700-square feet, and whether that encouraged diverse enough apartments.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said that the threshold was meant to spur affordable housing and rental. But he said it is now encouraging too many small investor apartments, and the region needs to find ways to encourage a more diverse range.

“We now have just this plethora of tiny condos and apartments throughout our region, and they’re of no value, or little value, to families,” Taylor said. “They’re largely rental and investor units ... It is a bit of unintended consequence."

The region is updating its development charges bylaw, adding elements like charging for the Yonge-North Subway extension. But staff recommended against a councillor's idea to expand the “small apartments” discounted category from 700 to 1,000 square feet, arguing it could unintentionally alter charge calculations to raise them for both small and large apartments.

“By raising the delineation point to 1,000 square feet, the majority of the region’s apartments would be in the small apartment class,” the staff report said. “The smaller apartments within this class would then be subsidizing the larger ones. This would make the 2022 bylaw vulnerable to appeal as it would go against the 2016 divisional court precedent.”

Under the current bylaw, small apartments 700 square feet or smaller face development charges of approximately $28,187 upon building permit issuance, compared to $38,611 for any larger than that, according to the York Region website.

Vaughan Regional Councillor Linda Jackson said families cannot manage in apartments that small. She said it is a significant issue and some action on the matter is needed.

“We need to start being the leaders of York Region,” Jackson said. “We have to do whatever we can to be able to encourage purpose-built rentals and to be able to create livable communities.”

Newmarket Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh said the region needs to examine best practices from other places and that adjusting the small apartment rate is marginal when it comes to affordability.

“Moving from 700 to 1,000, really isn’t going to move the needle,” Vegh said.

But Taylor responded that the region needs to take whatever steps possible to improve the housing situation, however small.

“I’ve heard from people saying, 'I can’t find anything but single-family homes and I can’t afford that,'” Taylor said. “If we’re only looking at things that make a big huge impact, that will solve housing affordability, we’ll move on nothing. We need to look at every tool in the toolbox and combine them."

Staff said that apartment sizes should be considered in the next development charges bylaw review. But CAO Bruce Macgregor said such bylaws are not a “terribly progressive instrument” and the provincial act is "tightly scripted."