It is interesting to note that ground-related housing completions have declined steeply in the latest five years in response to a sizeable and growing shortage of serviced lots for single-detached and other types of ground-related homes.
How the Neptis Foundation and Crombie Panel Explain the Deceleration in Built-up Area Expansion in 2001-2011
The Neptis Foundation’s research and the Crombie Panel report addressed the decline in the rate of built-up area expansion in 2001-2011 but not within the context of the rise in single-detached house completions.
The Neptis Foundation attributed the decline in built-up area expansion to private developers building more compact communities:
“This means that developers were already creating more compact communities, even before the Growth Plan.”8
It follows that developers must have been responding to the demands of the marketplace for more compact communities.
The Neptis Foundation report then poses a rather contentious question:
“This finding raises questions about whether the Growth Plan could have been more ambitious
with its targets for intensification and new development on greenfields.”9
It then answers this question affirmatively:
“This finding suggests the Plan could have been more ambitious in its intensification and greenfield density targets.”10
We suggest an equally cogent question to be asked given the private sector was creating more compact communities prior to the enactment of the Growth Plan would be:
Given the private sector was already creating more compact communities, could it be that the intensification and greenfield density targets in the growth plan were not required at all to achieve the results observed in 2001-2011?
Crombie Panel Report
The Crombie Panel report observed there has been a long-term trend towards smaller lot sizes. Still, the report appears to demean single-detached houses:
“Since 1986, there has been a long-term trend towards smaller lot sizes across the GGH, but many of the
houses built on those smaller lots are still detached dwellings in car-dependent suburbs”11
The report also notes, “…however, housing affordability remains a concern across the region”12 but does not make the linkage between restrictions on the supply of new single-detached houses and their affordability.
Despite the marked decline in the expansion of the GTA’s built-up area in 2001-2011, the Crombie Panel report concluded “. . . but we must step up our efforts to curb sprawl . . .”13
The Panel went on to recommend increased density targets for designated greenfield lands (Recommendation 14) and increased intensification targets (Recommendation 10). These recommendations are now part of the Province’s proposals to revise the Growth Plan.14
The Crombie Panel speculated on the future trend in built-up area expansion:
“If the trend for decreasing land consumption continues, it is likely that much of the land that has been designated to
accommodate forecasted growth to 2031 will not actually be developed by that date . . ."15
This is hypothetical only. No analysis is provided to support a continuing decline in built-up area expansion. Further, there is no analysis of the housing market impacts, especially affordability, of reducing built-up area expansion even more than what happened in 2001-2011.
The Crombie Panel’s recommendations aimed at reducing the construction of single-detached houses even more than under the existing Growth Plan, and the Province’s acquiescence of the recommendations, is based on incomplete research. Quantifying the factors leading to the large drop in the built-up area expansion in 2001-2011 from the previous decade (really three decades) should be a prerequisite to considering any such policies, especially when available data show that single-detached house construction actually surged over the same period. The impact of such policies on housing affordability should also be established.
How Can the Disparity between the Decline in Built-Up Area Expansion and the Surge in Single-Detached House Completions be Explained?
The trend towards more compact communities and shrinking lot sizes has its roots back in the latter 1980s so it is unlikely to be a primary cause of the noted changes during 2001-2011 compared to the preceding decade. In fact, it appears there was little change in average lot size for ground-related new housing during the decade. The explanation is not readily obvious but should be investigated before implementing policies targeted at reducing the production of new single-detached houses.
Questions the Province Should Be Asking Before Restricting Future Construction of Single-Detached Houses in the GTA Even More Than at Present
Right now the Province is proposing to impose further restrictions on the building of single-detached housing based on incomplete research and an almost single-minded pursuit of environmental objectives. There is a need for evidence-based research before such policies are implemented including researched responses to questions like the following:
- How was the GTA able to significantly increase its supply of new single-detached houses in the 2001-2011 decade at the same time it sharply reduced the land required for built-up area expansion?
- What is the likely requirement for new housing by unit type and neighbourhood typography between now and the year 2041 in the absence of the Province’s intensification and greenfield land density decrees?
- What are the implications of these housing requirements for future expansion of the built-up area in the GTA?
- How should these requirements by unit type and neighbourhood typography be modified to accommodate realistic environmental goals based on an analytical framework which quantifies the impacts of the various housing types on the environment and, in turn, the impacts of land use restrictions on housing affordability and choice?
- How much greenfield land is required to accommodate the modified housing requirement forecasted, provide for uncertainty, choice and competition among developers by geographic sub-areas, recognizing that most new housing in built-up areas will be apartments?
- What mechanisms should be utilized to ensure an ample short-term supply of serviced or readily serviceable land by housing type to meet anticipated demand (per Policy 1.4.1 of the current Provincial Policy Statement)?
Far-sighted urban land use policies must be based on solidly based research and a consideration of the major benefits and costs including economic and housing market considerations.