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Buildings Canada

Hear From Tony Irwin, President & CEO of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO)

For anyone who may be unaware of FRPO’s work please could you give a brief description of the work you do and who it is targeted at?

The FRPO was established in 1985 and we are the largest association that advocates for strong and stable rental housing in the province of Ontario. We represent approximately 2200 Members who own, build, manage supply and service purpose built rental housing throughout the province. Collectively we represent about 350,000 apartment rental homes within our membership across Ontario.

What is the biggest challenge facing your membership when it comes to the housing crisis?

Well, I think the number one crisis that affects our Members and most people is the need for more housing, the supply crisis that we are in. We clearly need far more homes of all types than we have, it's been something that we've been grappling with for a few years now. But I would say over the last couple of years it's really come into focus for every government across Canada is grappling with how to solve this problem.

When you talk to people, neighbours, relatives, friends, it really does affect many people, whether it's their children trying to find somewhere to live where they can afford, whether it's seniors looking to downsize to free up equity so that their kids can perhaps buy a home. People are struggling to be able to pay rent based on the economic pressures that many people are under. So I think we're grappling with an economic challenge here with the housing challenge. There are many ways those go together.

I think for our industry, it's really an issue of how can we continue to advocate for policies that will enable housing to get built faster. So that we can attempt to close the gap between the housing that we need and what we can actually provide.

What are the various strategies and legislations designed to support these challenges?

Various strategies and legislations are being implemented to address the housing challenges in Ontario. At the provincial level, the government has introduced measures aimed at accelerating housing construction, including the Building Faster Fund, which provides funding to municipalities meeting or exceeding provincial housing targets. This initiative stems from the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force's recommendation to build 1.5 million homes, a figure that has likely grown over time due to increasing demand.

The Ontario government has committed to introducing a housing bill annually to address housing issues comprehensively. While the specifics of the upcoming bill remain unknown, industry discussions revolve around recommendations from the task force report, particularly focusing on streamlining approval processes to expedite construction projects. Proposed measures include implementing as-of-right zoning for rental construction in transit-oriented areas and offering density incentives for purpose-built rental projects to compete with condominium developments.

One significant challenge highlighted is the stigma associated with rental developments in some communities. Despite acknowledging the housing crisis, local opposition to rental

projects often hampers their progress. Encouraging a shift in societal attitudes towards renting, akin to European cities where it's a norm, is essential. Government interventions, such as providing zoning incentives and density bonuses for rental projects, can help overcome these hurdles and foster a more supportive environment for construction.

Additionally, there's discussion around policies like "use it or lose it," which aim to address stalled developments. While the intention is to incentivize timely construction, caution is advised to avoid penalizing developers unjustly. The focus should remain on facilitating construction by eliminating barriers and modernizing approval processes.

At the federal level, initiatives like the Housing Accelerator Fund provide financial support to municipalities to streamline approval processes and reduce red tape. The overarching goal is to expedite construction projects and increase housing supply to meet the growing demand. Overall, a collective effort involving various stakeholders is crucial to prioritize and incentivize construction to address Ontario's housing challenges effectively.

Ontario recently passed Bill 97 which focuses on “helping homeowners, protecting tenants”. How will this bill help homeowners and how does the bill protect tenants?

There are pieces in that legislation [Bill 97] that were intended to strengthen tenant protections and as an industry association we are always supportive. We do believe fundamentally in an industry and a framework where tenants and residents are protected but it also allows for the industry to be viable.

There are pieces in there that you know whether it be bringing in an additional framework, or perhaps a stronger framework around situations where rental property owners are looking to significantly renovate a unit, and that unit requires vacant possession. Then there are some changes there that dictate how that must be done, from having a qualified person certify that vacant possession is needed, to providing regular updates to that resident as the construction is progressing because as we all know, renovations can take sometimes longer than you might expect. And finally ensuring that that resident has the opportunity to return to that unit after the renovation is complete at the old rent.

Mr. Irwin then went on to highlight that these issues are being brought to life because of the ageing rental stock in Ontario. With the majority of the rental stock (~80%) of it having been built before 1980. This ageing rental stock, especially apartment buildings, are now approaching the end of their life cycle and so will require significant renovations, many of which will require vacant possession.

But again Bill 97 has provisions written into it that look to ensure the tenants are respected in process and ensures that there is a framework that rental housing have to follow and includes fines for malpractice that are the highest in any jurisdiction in Canada. These fines are also continuing to be increased to ensure that best practices are follow and we [FRPO] are very supportive of that

We encourage our members in situations like this to complete the work at turnover if possible and if that’s not possible then to work with their residents and look to cause as little disruption as possible for the residents.

Are there any strategies that you’d advise property managers to employ to better align their practices with Bill 97 and meet Ontario’s goal of 1.5m homes?

When these types of policies are brought forward, as I said in my previous answer, we understand why government looks at doing these things. There is a role for government to ensure that consumers are protected, but it's important also to point out to people that property managers are also facing significant challenges when aligning their practices with Bill 97 and trying to meet Ontario’s ambitious housing goal of 1.5 million new homes. The complexities arise when attempting to balance tenant protections with the viability of the rental industry. In this market many of these housing providers aren’t large corporations but are instead individuals and small rental housing providers who are facing many financial strains caused by factors such as interest rates, property taxes, and building insurances costs. These combined with Ontario capping rent increases at 2.5% per annum are leaving many property owners struggling to cover rising expenses. This is posing as a significant hurdle to those attempting to maintain viable rental properties.

When dealing with Bill 97 it is important to understand the broader context in which this legislation operates. We [FRPO] support the measures to strengthen tenant protections but also understand that there is a need to recognise the current challenges that many landlords are facing when attempting to operate their businesses under the current market conditions. These challenges come in the form of things such as navigating regulatory changes, managing expenses, and ensuring compliance whilst providing essential housing services. Our members are committed to meeting these new regulatory requirements but realised that there is a need for a balances approach that considers the interests of both tenants and landlords.

We believe the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) are playing a critical role in adjudicating disputes and ensuring that both tenants and landlords get access to necessary funding. Our members acknowledge the improvements in both funding and staffing made by the LTB, but we still find ourselves in a situation where there are delays and inefficiencies when attempting to resolve disputes such as non-payment of rent cases which in turn contribute to the financial strain faces by property owners, in particular smaller operators, who may struggle to sustain their business because of prolonged disputes. With that being said, we understand that it does take time for these funding and staffing increases to be distributed throughout the system and so our members understand that there is positive change being made, it just takes time.

When considering the broader housing crisis [national rather than regional] I believe that there is a need for collaborative efforts involving industry stakeholders, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. This is not an issue that is going to be solved by either the private or public sector, it is an issue that will require continued collaboration between all parties. These partnerships should leverage resources and expertise to facilitate the development of affordable housing projects. Ideally these initiatives would create mixed-income communities that cater to diverse housing needs whilst ensuring the economic viability of rental properties, for both landlord and tenant. We believe that collective action will be fundamental when addressing the current challenges of housing affordability and accessibility, only a multifaceted approach will achieve meaningful progress when dealing with such a complex challenge.