Solution to urban housing crunch lies outside the city (2017)

By Keith Currie, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Affordable housing is a very hot topic in the lead up to the provincial budget on April 27. The increasing housing prices in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are also attracting plenty of media attention. But what if the real story lies outside of the city? The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) believes the solution to high cost housing could be found in our surrounding rural Ontario communities.

Short-term solutions to solving the high housing costs and create affordable housing in the GTHA are on the table right now with city officials and the provincial and federal governments.  We expect to see a suite of measures in the upcoming provincial budget to try to stabilize the market. The Minister of Finance is in a tough position and has vowed to avoid any unintended consequences like bursting a housing bubble.

There may or may not be some short-term solutions that have impact, but OFA believes that the real long-term solution lies outside the GTHA. It is time to recognize that Toronto and the surrounding metropolis will never catch up with its infrastructure and housing needs at the current growth rate. The viable, long-term solution is to stabilize Toronto’s growth rather than just the housing market. This can be done by distributing economic development initiatives across the province – build up and invest in our rural communities. Only then will we relieve the pressure on the housing market for the long term.

The solution lies in increasing investment in our rural areas to strengthen communities and provide new economic opportunities for families. Infrastructure investments like widespread broadband, access to affordable energy with natural gas and increased social infrastructure including local schools and medical care are needed to attract new businesses and new residents.

The recent Barton report to the federal government highlighted agriculture and agri-food as an important and viable growth sector. It is time for the federal and provincial finance Ministers to start talking to the agri-business sector and mayors outside the GTHA to drive our economy forward while alleviating the GTHA housing crisis.

Our rural municipalities are eager to attract new businesses, repair roads and bridges, bring in reliable broadband and install natural gas pipelines, but to do so we require a concerted effort on the part of business and governments. The Barton report provides the general objectives for growth, but we need to collectively focus efforts in the right direction.

OFA and our partners across agriculture will be looking for the types of rural investments in the upcoming provincial budget that address the fundamental problem rather than just applying band-aid solutions to the GTHA housing problems. With the proper investments, our rural communities could relieve the strain on the GTHA housing market and offer less painful long-term economic growth.

For more information, contact:

Keith Currie
Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Neil Currie
General Manager
Ontario Federation of Agriculture


E . Davis says on April 21, 2017 at 4:49 PM

From this article I understand that you are considering the demand for more land from surrounding farmlands to meet Toronto's need. Only recently I learned that Toronto and Vancouver are now known as Sanctuary cities in Canada. If they are encouraging the influx of Moslem culture that demands that they build more high risers to maintain their population and not rob valuable farmland. Farms are a priceless commodity largely observable in the character growth of young humanity.

Don says on April 21, 2017 at 5:24 PM

Raise interest rates to historical levels and we will see the organic demand for housing.

Wayne Kreklewich says on April 21, 2017 at 5:28 PM

The Greenbelt philosophy that took away the ability to allow two severances to a 100 acre farm was a direct shot at rural Ontario surrounding Toronto. Rural severance does nothing to complicate traffic congestion and infrastructure, but it does restrict movement out of the city into agriculture. There has to be a balance for people who keep the surrounding area greenbelt do not make much money doing it! a lot of rural property has been purchased by Commercial Construction interests now, so expect allowance for expansion to alleviate the housing shortage in those areas and the status quo for everyone else.

Morley Brown says on April 21, 2017 at 7:39 PM

The last forty years has been a concerted effort to centralize all growth to the GTA. Rural Ontario has been downsized, hospitals, schools and other services have been removed to more central location. Mean while farming has evolved into larger tracts of land, less people living on the land. Small communities are shrinking in population . Do you think for one moment that governments are going to reverse this .? Opening up Green Belts and the Niagara Escarpment will not help. These places are becoming the play ground for the urban weekend warriors from the GTA. While I sympathize with your comments, it is I am afraid just wishful thinking. Perhaps the OFA should use it resources to find another solutions. I do not believe your ideas will work. Morley Brown, Shelburne, Ontario

Irfan Chaudhary says on April 21, 2017 at 9:32 PM

I absolutely agree with it 110% with it to build a infrastructure in rural communities to alleviate the housing crisis in GTA.

Bill Jeffery says on April 22, 2017 at 1:22 PM

I farm in Simcoe County, where most municipalities have official Plans that prohibit severances, except for the purpose of acfeage consolidation. Thhis was inspired by "good planning' in the day, and fsrmers' fears that having a new household on a corner of their farm, or even down-wind on their neighbor's property, would lead to complaints and conflicts, and perhaps curtailment of their normal seasonal activities. Soon big machines will be snorting thru' the fields and running all night with lights blazing to get seed into the ground. then maybe manure needs spreadiong, etc. etc. thru' to harvest. However, I think it is time for a paradigm shift, and we farmers and planners who have created a bigger problem have got to reverse course and encourage the "storage" of families wherever they may wish to locate in a free-market system that does allow severances again, AND THUS support our local businesses, churches, hockey teams, Lions' Clubs and their ilk, schools (if not already amalgamated or sold), efficiency of our existing infrastructure, lower tax burdens (when spread over a higher population of families in each township), AND, most importantly we farmers who now are in a majority in the over 59 years' class. Personally my wife and a I are giving up beef-farming because there's no young help to be found "just down the road" anymore, for those occasional busy days or man-power-heavy jobs. We haven't had high-speed internet service because the population density is so low as to be uneconomic. So now two levels of government are going to pitch-in $170million to address a problem that was created by our land-use policies for the past three decades. This expenditure marks a "failure" to plan ahead, not a stroke of genius. And now there's another government program to give grants to store-fronts to encourage investment in "visual improvements" of a "village nature". Well, if the rural population had been permitted to expand under market forces would those businesses have not have prospered sufficiently with doubled or tripled local customers such that the store-owners would have spent their own money on "beautifications"? A free market I argue could have prevented the closing of so many businesses on my town's main street, and avoided the blank spaces "For Rent" that are the bain of the BIAs and Chambers of Commerce. As far as I know, the Law of Unintended Consequences does not apply to free market commerce, meaning the freeing up of our overtly-restrictive and cowardly land use policies, but it seems to inevitably demonstrate over time the negative out-comes of central planning and overly-socialist government "accepted wisdoms". Lastly, to all the farmers and cit-folk who have knee-jerk reactions to the thought of arable land being lost to families, get over it! Everywhere i travel in Simcoe and Grey Counties I see lots of farm-land that's not farmable without goats. surely it would be better-used growing children and strengthening the rural fabric? As for arable acreage, has not Climate Change brought us a vast area of unused and arable land in the Great Clay Belt? The times have changed in this respect and the passage of Time has shown that we shot ourselves in the foot with overly-limiting planning concepts from the 60's and 7-'s Indeed, a paradigm shift is called for! Bill Jeffery, Stayner

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