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E-BLAST: The Greenbelt Isn't Our Housing Solution

It's been a good couple of weeks since the Ontario Auditor General released the findings of her investigation into the Provincial government's move to release certain properties from the Greenbelt. This issue is still popping up in the news, and rightly so. While our Premier insists that this move was needed to fight our housing crisis, opening lands in the Greenbelt is not the solution we need. Let's dive into why this issue just won't go away and why we have a Greenbelt in the first place.


Ontario's Greenbelt was designated in 2004 after years of activism. It is the largest in the world, protecting two million acres of farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. This land provides us with fresh air, clean water, fantastic local food and drink, and world-class outdoor recreation and tourism experiences. The health of the Greenbelt affects the quality of drinking water for more than seven million Canadians. The permanent protection of this land is essential not only for our local environment today, but also to support our local economies and fight climate change in the long term.


When you visit a farm in the Greenbelt to go berry picking or hay riding, you're acknowledging the importance of having food production near our densely populated cities. When you walk the dog or ride your bike past a creek in the Greenbelt, it's easy to forget that the creek you see and aquifers beneath your feet are working hard to make life liveable for 8 million people in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. These natural features will be all the more needed in the years ahead, as the population for the region is set to increase to 11.5 million by 2031. You can learn more about the benefits of the Greenbelt here:


There is also an important planning principle that adds to all of these innate environmental benefits: endlessly sprawling out from the core of a city is unsustainable. A city cannot guarantee endless stretches of road and transportation modes. There is a massive environmental cost to sprawl, both in its increased energy footprint and by encouraging longer personal vehicle commutes. There is also a serious financial burden to allowing endless low-density sprawl that can't be met by any order of government.

A map of the Greenbelt.


That is why the Province's own planning policy has been geared towards intensification within cities for as long as there has been a Greenbelt. In addition, the Auditor General herself demonstrates in her report that we can still build the 1.5 million homes that Ontario needs without using any Greenbelt lands. Just months before opening up Greenbelt land and providing windfall profits to developers, the Province had assigned housing targets to all Golden Horseshoe municipalities to meet the need for 1.5 million homes. Not a single municipality objected to these targets. Each of us simply asked for the ability to collect adequate development charges so that we can upgrade the infrastructure needed to serve the new housing.


If Premier Ford is focused on the housing crisis, he is focused on the right issue. However, he is not focused on the right solutions. Opening up the Greenbelt not only threatens our natural environment and local economies, it doesn't built the type of housing we need. Across the Golden Horseshoe, including right here in Don Valley North, there are thousands of development applications approved, representing hundreds of thousands of units ready to be built within existing cities. However, shovels aren't hitting the ground. Developers aren't proceeding because inflation and the ever-changing cost of borrowing is making them hesitate.


Our Provincial and Federal governments can't guarantee the price of steel and other building materials, but they do have the policy power to make things more predictable and palatable as we tackle the housing crisis. For instance, they can guarantee the cost of borrowing in exchange for rapid building starts and the completion of housing units. In particular, we need to see the other orders of government provide low-cost, long-term, fixed-rate financing for the construction of purpose-built rentals. Our Provincial and Federal partners could also look into creating a Code of Conduct for builders that streamlines the approvals process and helps fast-track housing. With these measures in place, housing could continue to wrap around Lake Ontario and the Greenbelt could continue to support Ontarian's quality of life by providing access to greenspace, local food, and fresh, clean water sources.


It is just not good enough to say that the Provincial government is adopting 14 of the Auditor General's 15 recommendations when they are ignoring the most urgent one. The Auditor General has called for a halt to releasing these lands from the Greenbelt, and the Province is refusing to budge. If you want the Greenbelt protected for your children and grandchildren, you need to reach out to your local MPP and our Premier right now.


We need housing built, but it needs to be the right type of housing for our communities, now and into the future. We don’t need massive homes built in the middle of nowhere, especially when they threaten the lands that are the lifeblood of our Province. The Province needs to acknowledge the importance of our Greenbelt lands, put them back under protection, and get to work on the policy changes that will actually deal with the housing crisis at hand.

 


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