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Doug Ford promises $500,000 homes but offers few details
Sept. 11, 2023

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office is providing few details about a surprise promise he made to a crowd of supporters that his government would donate land and offer young people 1,600-square-foot homes with backyards, driveways and finished basements for a steeply discounted $500,000 or less.

The pledge won cheers at the latest of his self-styled “Ford Fest” barbecues held in Kitchener, Ont., on Friday. The crowd also applauded comments from the Premier warning against teachers who “indoctrinate” students and saying schools should be obligated inform parents when their children change their pronouns or gender identities.

A spokesperson for the Premier, Ivana Yelich, said on Sunday in an e-mail that more information about the housing promise would follow “in the coming months.” She said “modular homes” – a cheaper mode of construction that sees components produced at a central facility and then assembled on-site – would be part of the plan.

The promise of $500,000 homes follows weeks of the Progressive Conservative government being dogged by corruption allegations for allowing connected developers to build housing on parts of the province’s protected Greenbelt, which encircles the Greater Toronto Area.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Friday’s event to demand the return of the almost 3,000 hectares Ontario removed from the 800,000-hectare Greenbelt. Both the Auditor-General and the Integrity Commissioner have issued reports criticizing the rushed process for selecting the land, saying it favoured a select group of developers who collectively won an $8.3-billion windfall in increased property values.

The Ontario Greenbelt controversy, Doug Ford’s role and what has happened so far

At one point on Friday, demonstrators blocked an SUV that appeared to be part of Mr. Ford’s police security detail from entering Ford Fest.

The Premier’s new promise of cheap homes did not mention the former Greenbelt sites, where the government has said it expects developers to provide at least 10 per cent “attainable/affordable” housing. Mr. Ford said the government will put up provincial land across the province. And he pledged to build “thousands and thousands” of “starter” homes, alluding to homebuilding push that followed the Second World War.

“Let me give you a promise. We’re going to make sure that we’re going to donate land. We’re going to work with our municipalities. We’re going to offer a 1,600-square-foot home, with a basement that’s finished that you can rent out or have family there. You’re going to have a backyard with a fence. You’re going to have a paved driveway – under $500,000,” Mr. Ford told cheering supporters.

Such a plan would require a large discount in today’s market, or extensive subsidies. The average price of a home in the Greater Toronto Area last month was $1.08-million, according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board.

The Premier’s idea resembles an affordable housing plan already launched in Waterloo Region, where Mr. Ford made his speech Friday night. Spearheaded by the charity Habitat for Humanity, the Build Now: Waterloo Region initiative aims to use donated municipal land, waived fees and partnerships with local developers who agree to eliminate mark-ups and build at cost. It hopes to build 10,000 homes by 2030 for sale or rent at half the local market price.

But the homes would only be available to families who need them, as determined by Habitat for Humanity screening. And buyers would be prevented from flipping the discounted units. These homes are also set to be more dense than the Premier’s vision of houses with backyards and basements, as the Waterloo plan outlines four-to-six storey buildings made up of units with one-to-three bedrooms each.

Kevin Eby, a former director of community planning for the Region of Waterloo, said this kind of initiative could have real potential. But he said the province’s focus on pleasing large developers has done it no favours with municipalities, non-profits, co-operatives and other groups needed to build affordable housing.

“Instead of bringing groups together, what this government did was they alienated everybody right at the start,” Mr. Eby said in an interview.

The Greenbelt issue has had the government scrambling. Mr. Ford’s previous housing minister, Steve Clark, resigned on Labour Day, after the Integrity Commissioner found Mr. Clark had violated ethics rules for failing to oversee the way the Greenbelt land was chosen by his chief of staff. Last week, Mr. Ford and his new Housing Minister, Paul Calandra, vowed to review the entire Greenbelt, but said the process could see even more land removed.

Supporters at Ford Fest on Friday, including assembled PC cabinet ministers and MPPs, applauded the Premier when he weighed in on the controversy over whether schools should be obligated to inform parents when their child changes their pronouns or their gender expression at school.

“Most important is the parents’ rights, the parents’ rights to listen and make sure they are informed when their children make a decision,” Mr. Ford said, not actually mentioning gender issues specifically. “It’s not up to the teachers, it’s not up to the school boards to indoctrinate our kids.”

The issue has flared up in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, where governments have issued formal policies requiring parental permission for children to change pronouns. Critics say doing so could force young people to come out to families hostile to their new identity and subject them to abuse.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said last month that parents must be “fully involved and fully aware of what’s happening in the life of their children.” But he also said teachers and school boards already consider a student’s home environment and whether there is a risk of harm.