Homebuilders say Burlington won’t reach housing targets


Published August 11, 2023 at 3:06 pm

An organization that represents builders believes Burlington won’t be able to live up to its homebuilding commitment.

A spokesperson for the West End Home Builders’ Association (WE HBA) says at the current rate of construction, Burlington will fall short of its goal of creating 29,000 new housing units by 2031. WE HBA is the voice of the local residential construction industry in Hamilton and Burlington.

Mike Collins-Williams, CEO of WE HBA, says Burlington is not building homes fast enough.

He pointed to recent statistics provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) that list Burlington as having the poorest track record in Ontario for housing starts among municipalities that have pledged to meet provincial government targets.

The CMHC, an agency of the federal government with a mandate to oversee and improve housing across the country, says Burlington had just 208 housing starts in the past year-and-a-half.

“If you break that down, to achieve 29,000 units you would need monthly house starts (of) 242 units each month,”  Collins-Williams said. “Burlington averaged 11 (per month) in 2022 and so far in 2023, 14 (per month). A year-and-a-half in and we are four per cent of the way.”

When asked directly if Burlington will be able to build 29,000 homes by 2031, Collins-Williams’ response was simple: “No,” he said.

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward has defended the City’s track record on construction approvals and insists the target will be met.

In a recent interview with inhalton.com, she pointed out that much of the blame rests with developers who are receiving permits to build, but are not acting on them.

“Municipalities don’t build houses,” the mayor explained. “We issue the approvals, but we also rely on the development industry to apply; they have to put in an application. Once the approvals have gone past City council…they have got to come and get their building permits.”

The mayor said there are “thousands” of units that have been approved by the City or the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) that builders have yet to act on. The OLT is a provincial body that adjudicates matters related to land use planning.

Still, the explanation doesn’t sit well with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who publicly called out Burlington for its slow uptake on building homes.

Ford said he wants to meet with the mayor to get the approval process moving.

While Collins-Williams acknowledges that homebuilders should shoulder some of the responsibility, he points out, however, that Burlington’s track record of project approval is low.

“The City does have a notorious reputation of slowing down the process and the industry has had to take everything to the tribunal and that’s not how the process should be,” Collins-Williams said. “The tribunal exists when there is a breakdown in process…and the applicant has no other choice but to go to the tribunal to get approvals that they should be getting because the tribunal only approves projects that meet provincial policy.”

Collins-Williams added that every application to build a new high-rise in downtown Burlington had to go to the tribunal.

He said the WE HBA is sympathetic to the political realities of progress and how politicians have to listen to ratepayers who are reluctant to accept change, but that certain realities exist.

“In the development industry, we’re in the business of change and there is a lot of resistance to change,” Collins-Williams said. “But we are in a housing crisis and the growth rates are beyond anything we have ever experienced.”

He said in order to meet the challenges of the crisis, municipalities must be willing to accept higher density and that buildings must grow taller. In addition, more small-scale housing options should be offered in existing communities and outward boundary expansion, also known as building on greenspace, has to take place.

“And unfortunately, all of those options are fraught with the politics around change,” he said.

In a statement released after Ford’s comments, Meed Ward said the numbers do not tell the whole story of how many developments are actually underway.

“Burlington Council has unanimously accepted our pledge to issue 29,000 permits by 2031, and our City already has 25,000 units and growing in the development pipeline,” the mayor stated. “We are willing to work with the development industry to help enable them to get shovels in the ground.”

While few accept full responsibility for solving the housing crisis, all parties agree that aside from politics, other factors have weighed in to stall the growth.

Mortgage rates, inflation, construction financing and construction costs have all been factors preventing builders from building.

Another point of agreement is that solutions will only be found if all stakeholders and levels of government are included in the process.

This includes Ottawa, which has opened the doors to historic levels of immigration, but did so without a plan to house the new arrivals, Provincial and municipal leaders now say.

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