Are the Ontario Greenbelt's days numbered?

In late April, it was revealed that provincial Progressive Conservative candidate Doug Ford intends to “open up” part of the Greenbelt for housing development. One of the largest such areas in the world, Ontario’s Greenbelt is a permanently protected area of greenspace, farmland, forests, wetlands and watersheds that covers approximately two million acres in Southwestern Ontario.

This revelation has sparked much debate. Full disclosure: I live in the city of Toronto, I walk to work and take transit to downtown meetings. I have no desire to live in a so-called bedroom community. However, I have three kids, and I was lucky enough to get into the market before prices exploded, so I fully understand and feel for young families who want to live in affordable single-family developments in the suburbs, or outside of the GTA. I am a YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) and support all forms of new housing. I believe in dense, transit-friendly suburbs, as opposed to banning all new greenfield development.

Slow approvals

Strangely, no one was asking for the Greenbelt to be opened up, not even housing developers. There is vacant land available to build new homes inside the Greenbelt, but municipalities are slow to approve those lands for new home subdivisions, and slow to build the needed infrastructure to support it. Available supply has dropped to extremely low levels, and costs have gone way up, leading to sky-high new home prices. Despite the slow planning process and lack of servicing allocation, removing lands from the Greenbelt that are adjacent to existing sewer and water connections, existing GO Transit Stations and suburban employment centres could help housing affordability. Ford is trying to capitalize on middle-class angst and frustration with housing market conditions, as well as the desire of many Canadians to own a “piece of dirt,” so to speak.

The province wants intensification, infill development and family-friendly condos that take advantage of existing infrastructure, reduce car usage and are more environmentally friendly. By reducing urban sprawl, the hope is that potential buyers will buy in downtown condominiums near the subway, or stacked townhouses on other rapid transit lines. Some residents have taken that route, chosen to reduce their commute, get rid of their car and live closer to amenities. Many have decided to jump the Greenbelt and buy in Brantford, Guelph, Orillia, Lindsay and Cobourg, increasing their commute and car usage, while reducing time with their families. Others have rejected condo living, and choose to overpay for existing single-family homes, putting themselves in financial peril.

To vote or not to vote?

Urban condo development is expensive due to higher land, construction and financing costs, leading to higher home prices. Conversely, long commutes, traffic and loss of farmland is bad for economic prosperity and is environmentally unfriendly.

Will a reduction of Greenbelt lands make you more or less likely to vote for Doug Ford?

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