Parking a Tiny Home

Tiny home industry reacts to Doug Ford’s proposed housing changes

Doug Ford will override municipal zoning to allow more housing across Ontario, confidential document reveals”. This headline stopped us and other tiny home advocates in their tracks, municipal zoning being one of the key barriers for most of our readers looking to own a tiny home.

On October 20, the Toronto Star published an article about a leaked document of proposed changes to municipal zoning and the land planning decision process. The legislation has since been officially released as the More Homes Faster Act 2022.

The stated purpose of the legislation is to accelerate land use planning. “You have to have bold, transformative change in the immediate and long term,” Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark told the Toronto Star.

What do these changes mean for current and future tiny home owners? We asked experts in the tiny home industry to comment on what’s coming to Ontario. 

Reducing the role of Conservation Authorities

When it comes to consultation with Conservation Authorities, the proposed legislation seeks to reduce their role to “commenting agencies”. “Review and re-scope their role to streamline permitting, freeze fees and direct CAs to make land available for housing,” the document said. (Toronto Star)

The Canadian tiny home community, being highly aligned with sustainable development and environmental protection took issue with this change, voicing their concerns:

“The main thought we have is that this rather aggressive strategy to overrule conservation authorities (to bypass bottlenecks in the process) may lead to loss of green space and have a more systemic impact on the natural environments especially in some of the more rural areas of Ontario.” – Payam Shalchian, Co-founder, Designer and Builder, Instead

“This rather aggressive strategy to overrule conservation authorities may lead to loss of green space and have a more systemic impact on natural environments.” – Payam Shalchian, Co-founder, Designer and Builder, Instead

While recognizing the importance of environmental assessments and considerations in land planning, our experts made suggestions on how the process can be improved:

“Conservation Authorities exist for a reason, to protect the biodiversity of our lands and our watersheds, however the bureaucratic system of applications and long wait times hinder projects. I would like to see the CA defer to environmental planning organizations who have the infrastructure for quick assessments, at little cost. I do not believe large developments should circumvent proper environmental assessments, but single smaller projects can be easily expedited.” – Bianca Metz, Owner, The Giving Tree Tiny Living Consultancy and Tiny Homes Ontario

“Conservation Authorities should be viewed not as a hinderance to development but instead as a tool to help support environmentally sustainable development – instead of simply removing certain authorities, consider reprofiling this resource to support development that preserves and maintains the local environment, CAs are well positioned for this role, and it would complement other core functions they already provide.” – Seeds for Eco Communities

Efficiencies built in for big developers – tiny home permits will not benefit

One of the proposed changes is allowing “two- and three-unit homes in existing houses provided the same square footage is retained.” Our colleagues in the tiny home industry comment that, while helpful in creating housing, this change is not as major as it sounds:

“Development charges are already exempt for most SDUs and coach houses. Some municipalities already allow 2 SDUs in addition to the principal dwelling (so 3 units total within the existing house). The building code definition of a “house” should be revised to include up to 3 or 4 units. That would simplify some fire code and means of egress issues we often face with triplex and fourplex conversions.” – Ken Bekendam, President and CEO, Legalsecondsuites.com

“Development charges are already exempt for most SDUs and coach houses. Some municipalities already allow 2 SDUs in addition to the principal dwelling (so 3 units total within the existing house).”- Ken Bekendam, President and CEO, Legalsecondsuites.com

Comments we’ve received from Ontario building officials point that the plan, while increasing approval efficiency for adding residential units inside existing homes takes attention away from tiny homes as detached secondary dwelling units: 

“Allowing for more units to be added to existing homes, in the existing footprint, is going to reduce attention to detached additional dwelling units. It sounds like detached additional dwelling will continue to require a full Site Plan application, whereas adding two units in the existing footprint will now only require Zoning review.” 

Proposed changes and “overrides” to current municipal processes include elimination of unnecessary public meetings, introducing review deadlines, and streamlining approvals. While some of the legislation may be beneficial to those seeking approvals for tiny homes and secondary dwellings, our experts point out that those processes are already on the simple side. The real beneficiaries are larger developers.

“We hold skepticism that this approach (though in the name of addressing housing supply shortage) will be benefiting developers with deep pockets in the name of “affordable housing” while undermining the “authority” of conservation authorities. Affordable housing is not a singular problem that can be addressed by singular strategies so we hope that as this unfolds we see a more clear demonstration of systems-thinking in our government’s proposals for residential densification in both rural and urban settings.” – Payam Shalchian, Co-founder, Designer and Builder, Instead

Comments from municipal building officials in Ontario confirm this skepticism: 

“Site plan application is a long and arduous process for a developer if they don’t have all their ducks in a row. There are no provincially mandated timelines so the municipality can take as long as they need to review. I know certain municipalities allow developers to apply for permit without having completed their Site Plan Approval which bogs down the permit process. Previously, Ford had talked about adding Site Plan review timelines and returning fees to developers if the municipality did not meet the timelines. Developers already apply with half complete applications on a regular basis. The likely outcome is they will be applying to push their large projects through without proper oversight. Creating a detached additional dwelling unit (which is probably the closest thing you can get to a tiny home at the moment) also requires Site Plan Approval. It is unlikely that the proposed changes will provide any benefit to such small developments with minimal requirements.”

“Developers already apply with half complete applications on a regular basis. The likely outcome is they will be applying to push their large projects through without proper oversight.”

Indeed, the proposed regulations seem to benefit larger developers without taking into account the opportunities that tiny homes provide in flexible and sustainable development that gently increases urban density:

“We lean too heavily in relying upon developers; we do not need developers, we need to utilize the land we currently have, either off grid or with current utilities and services. This platform makes sense for duplex/triplexes, but there are other solutions that can increase quality of life, sense of home ownership AND a person’s personal wealth; building tenant owned tiny homes can give gentle intensification while positively offsetting NIMBYism and canceling development charges.” – Bianca Metz, Owner, The Giving Tree Tiny Living Consultancy and Tiny Homes Ontario

“This platform makes sense for duplex/triplexes, but there are other solutions that can increase quality of life, sense of home ownership AND a person’s personal wealth; building tenant owned tiny homes can give gentle intensification.”– Bianca Metz, Owner, The Giving Tree Tiny Living Consultancy and Tiny Homes Ontario

Achieving the 1.5 million homes in 10 years despite NIMBYism

Doug Ford’s government, recognizing the housing crisis in Ontario, has made statements promising to build 150,000 homes annually for the next ten years. This new proposed legislation is a clear indication that the current structure of municipal planning cannot support this volume of new housing construction. 

Much of this is attributed to “not in my backyard”, or NIMBYism, a phenomenon where the best-laid plans hit a wall when local residents oppose their implementation in their neighbourhoods.

Doug Ford describes this issue as,“If you have a certain part of council complaining day in and day out — ‘We need more homes, we need more rentals. Oh, by the way, don’t build in my backyard, build in the guy’s down the street’— hopefully we’ll move forward” (Toronto Star).

Despite the province’s push to introduce more density and secondary dwelling units in 2019-2020, our experts have certainly encountered their share of NIMBYism:

“Bill 108 passed in June 2019. Municipalities have had enough time to enact the changes required by the Act. Specifically, allowing two dwelling units in a single house. We still encounter resistance at times when assisting homeowners by creating legal secondary dwellings within their house. In order to be able to house a new immigrant family, aging family member, or children who can’t yet afford their own home. When local governments refuse to act in the best interests of their constituents, we need the provincial government to step in when necessary to bypass counter-productive zoning policies, and enforce previously mandated turnaround times for planning reviews. I completely agree that a lot of the zoning issues revolve around NIMBYism. We have to do everything we can to side-step this issue. We are in a housing crisis.” – Justin Massecar, owner, Ontario Tiny Homes 

“I completely agree that a lot of the zoning issues revolve around NIMBYism. We have to do everything we can to side-step this issue. We are in a housing crisis.” – Justin Massecar, owner, Ontario Tiny Homes 

In order to achieve the goal of 1.5 million more homes in Ontario, our industry colleagues suggest new approaches are needed, not more of the same. In fact, they point out, this current need for increased housing supply is an opportunity to look at new ways of building, inspecting, and designing environmentally-conscious dwellings.

“We need streamlined approvals for us to even think about achieving 1.5m homes in 10 years. We need “stock” plans to be approved province wide, so if you are building the same model home in one municipality as another, then you only need to go through a streamlined approval process to deal with local site issues only. 2nd and 3rd dwellings on a property need consistent zoning requirements, and no planning approval. Zoning approval only. Expand this idea to small apartment buildings or condos and we might be able to do it, at least on the design end. Getting bogged down during the planning approval process while planners pick your paint colour is tedious and time consuming for design professionals.” – Justin Massecar, Owner, Ontario Tiny Homes 

“It is essential that the environment is not compromised as Ontario continues to grow – requirements for development through this new legislation should focus on environmentally sustainable options including off-grid homes such as hempcrete homes, straw bale homes, tiny homes, earth homes and other sustainable options. If municipalities are directed to approve more housing options, the flexibility to build sustainable off-grid communities should be provided within this authority – regardless of the housing type promoted, the goal should be to develop passive homes that where possible are also net zero, this is best suited in legislation instead of softer targets.” – Seeds for Eco Communities

“If municipalities are directed to approve more housing options, the flexibility to build sustainable off-grid communities should be provided within this authority.” – Seeds for Eco Communities

“With the provincial government looking to assist municipalities in meeting its 150,000 homes per year building goal, tiny home ADUs (Auxiliary Dwelling Units) and tiny home communities may provide the missing link. Most traditional forms of housing are already being produced at their capacity. Tiny home building can be key in providing housing for as many as 67% of those in housing need, that fit the tiny home demographic. With lower development costs, less NIMBY obstacles, a simpler building approval process, a lower cost to build, and a faster build time to occupation, we feel that these changes will help tiny homes become a housing option for more people, sooner.” – Ed Peterson, Founder/Director, Tiny Town Association

Most traditional forms of housing are already being produced at their capacity. Tiny home building can be key in providing housing for as many as 67% of those in housing need, that fit the tiny home demographic.” – Ed Peterson, Founder/Director, Tiny Town Association

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