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Policy Reports

CUR's policy reports are intended to help policy makers, policy advisors, students, academics, media, and the general public understand particular urban issues facing the Greater Golden Horseshoe and effective solutions for addressing the issues. The focus is on the role that economics and market understanding can play in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of urban policies.

The opinions expressed in these policy reports are those of the author and should not be taken to represent opinions and views of CUR or Ryerson University. 

A Fair Inventory of Short-Term Residential Land in the GTA According to the Latest Data: So, What's the Problem?

December 22, 2021 - There was a fair supply of short-term land for major dwelling types in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) at the time an inventory was compiled. So, what is the problem? The problem is that the last year we had complete information on the GTA's short-term residential land inventory was 2003. That's right, the year 2003, 18-years ago!

Provincial policy requires municipalities to maintain a minimum three-year supply of short-term land by dwelling type at all times and this has been the case since 1995. With annual monitoring, this means a de facto minimum supply of four years each time the inventory is compiled since the three-year minimum had to be maintained throughout the year.

CMHC and Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing funded a survey of the GTA's short-term land inventory by type of dwelling and municipality between 1994 and 2003. The survey provided information on short-term land inventories that could be used to monitor municipal compliance. The last land inventory survey of the series was done in 2003 and released in 2004.

What do we know about the short-term land inventory today? Unfortunately, not much, even when we expand the geographic coverage to include Hamilton, which has published an annual short-term land inventory for 15 years.

In the GTA, only York Region has released a recent short-term land inventory by dwelling type and municipality for greenfield lands for 2020. Peel, Halton, and Durham Regions do not release land inventory statistics. The City of Toronto releases short-term land inventory data for total units only. Within the Region of Durham, only the City of Oshawa and the Town of Whitby released 2020 inventory data by dwelling type for greenfield lands.

It is time for the Province to enforce this policy and instruct all municipalities in the GGH to regularly compile data on their short-term land supplies in built-up areas and greenfield areas by dwelling type and density and take suitable steps to ensure compliance.

PDF fileRead the report

CUR's Response to Durham Region's 30-Year Recommended Housing Needs Forecast by Dwelling Type

November 15, 2021 - CUR's senior researchers provided feedback on the Durham Region's housing needs forecast for 2021 to 2051, a key input into the Region's land needs assessment. We are sharing our submission with you. 

We have two criticisms of the staff-recommended housing needs forecast by type of dwelling:

  • While the 2021-2051 household growth forecast out to 2051 is identical to that produced by Hemson Consulting, total housing needs are understated by approximately 10%. In our view, total housing needs should be 240,000 households over the 30 years to account for past housing shortages, rather than the staff-recommended 219,630; and
  • The forecast significantly overstates the need for high-density housing and understates the need for low-density housing. As a result, the Region will need more designated greenfield land than the staff forecast predicts.

Deliberately over-planning for high-density housing at the expense of low-density housing will make it impossible for the Region to achieve its 2051 population target and exacerbate the Region's growing housing affordability problem. 

PDF fileRead the report

The Holy Grail: Accelerating Housing Supply and Affordability by Improving the Land-use Planning System

November 1, 2021 - There is growing consensus in the Vancouver and Toronto regions that the primary reason for high and rising housing prices is the unresponsiveness of the existing land use planning system to rising housing needs. We cannot produce affordable housing without an ample supply of approved, serviced sites in built-up and greenfield areas.
This paper highlights the planning challenges identified in the June final report of the Canada/B.C. Expert Panel on Future Housing Supply and Affordability and its conclusions and recommendations under the thematic category of Creating a Planning Framework that Proactively Encourages Housing.
CUR researchers Frank Clayton and David Amborski comment on these challenges and recommendations from a Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area ("GTHA") lens. They draw on the panel’s work to provide recommendations to increase and expedite the GTHA housing supply to improve affordability through reforming the land use planning process.

Among their recommendations are:

  • The Province of Ontario should apply its maximum timelines for municipal decisions on applications for official plan amendments, zoning by-law amendments and subdivision plans to include other stages of the development process, such as site plan and building permit approvals, and to fast-track violation appeals by applicants to the "front of the line" at the Ontario Land Tribunal.
  • The Province should ensure municipalities update their zoning by-laws to support and implement their official plans soon after they are updated and require municipalities to pre-zone large areas for residential development in both the built-up and greenfield areas, or implement a development permit system.
  • All public participation should occur earlier in the planning process than when re-zoning applications for particular sites are submitted. Uses and densities consistent with the provisions of the official plan for specified areas should be in place through the pre-zoning process or the use of a development permit system.
  • The Province's land needs assessment methodology should make an explicit requirement that municipalities include estimates of future replacement demand within the existing housing stock (demolitions less net conversions) and a vacancy allowance in addition to household growth. In addition, an “affordability adjustment” should be part of the calculation of future housing needs to account for past undersupply thus helping to improve future overall housing affordability.

Implementation of these and other recommendations will expedite applications through the approvals process in the GTHA, resulting in more housing coming onto the market more quickly. Overall, housing affordability will improve due to the increased expedited supply of housing. 

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CUR Response to the Proposed Regulation for a Streamlined Environmental Assessment Process for the Greater Toronto Area West Transportation Corridor Project

August 27, 2020 - We are sharing with you the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development's (CUR) response to the Proposed Regulation for a Streamlined Environmental Assessment Process for the Ministry of Transportation’s Greater Toronto Area (GTA) West Transportation Corridor project.

Metrolinx’s 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area predicts that even with all its recommended transit improvements the number of trips by car in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) will increase by 4.4 million daily trips during the peak rush hour by 2041 compared to 2011. Improved 400-series highways like the GTA West corridor are essential to accommodate this growth.

Without the proposed streamlining of the environmental assessment it would be the year 2023 or beyond before the preliminary design study for the Corridor is completed. It is simply taking too long to bring critical infrastructure improvements such as roads, transit, sewers, and water to completion, or to ensure serviced sites in built-up urban and greenfield areas are available to meet the demands of new residents and businesses. 

We support the Province’s proposed regulation to streamline the approval process which would eliminate duplication while maintaining environmental protection.

PDF fileView the Submission

CUR's Response to the Proposed Land Needs Assessment Methodology for A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe

August 10, 2020 - We are sharing with you the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development's (CUR) response to the proposed land needs methodology released by the Ontario Growth Secretariat for consultation.

We conveyed two main messages:

  • Enforcing municipal compliance with policy 1.4.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) is the single biggest action the Province can take to improve housing affordability; and
  • Municipalities should be required to disaggregate housing needs by housing type. CUR recommends that a “missing middle” housing type be added to the two housing types addressed in the latest Hemson forecasts for the GGH, at the very least.

Our submission also stresses that categorizing housing and land requirements by unit type is critical to quantifying the amount of housing to be built in designated built-up and greenfield areas.

PDF fileView the Submission

CUR's Submission to the City of Toronto Council Regarding the Toronto City Planning Report 'Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods.'

July 27, 2020 - We are sharing with you the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development's (CUR) response to the City of Toronto Council regarding the Toronto City Planning report "PDF fileExpanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods", external link.

CUR is pleased that the City of Toronto is focusing its attention on increasing the supply of "missing middle" housing, as we recommended in our 2019 report PDF file"A Strategy for Significantly Increasing the Supply of "Missing Middle" Housing in the City of Toronto". We encourage the City to move faster and bolder than outlined in the Planning Report. Our submission provides a road map for the City to carry this process forward.

PDF fileView the Submission

"Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s “Fixing the Housing Affordability Crisis” Paper Misses the Mark on Land Supply"

November 21, 2019 - The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) recently released a paper, “Fixing the Housing Affordability Crisis: Municipal Recommendations for Housing in Ontario”, which purports to provide a road map to fixing the housing affordability crisis in Ontario through the coordinated actions of the three levels of government. The paper includes 63 recommendations in total, 40 of which are intended to increase the supply of affordable housing.

According to Dr. Frank Clayton, CUR’s Senior Research Fellow, however, AMO’s recommendations fail to address aspects of the provincial legislative framework (e.g., A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe) and the municipal land use planning system that put the biggest constraints on the supply of affordable housing – those that limit the availability of serviced sites for development. The most important step the Province can make to ease the affordability problems for all households is to enforce Policy 1.4.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), which requires municipalities to meet minimum thresholds in providing development-ready land at all times to accommodate a range of new housing.

PDF fileView Report

CUR's Response to Recommended Changes to the Provincial Policy Statement: Ensuring an Ample Supply of Serviced/Readily Serviceable Residential Sites

October 31, 2019 - We are sharing with you the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development's (CUR) response to the proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) put forth by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH). CUR believes that our recommendations are integral to ensure the policies work to expand the supply of housing, broaden its mix and improve affordability.
Highlights of our submission include:

  • Agreeing with the proposal to replace “a minimum of 10 years” in (Policy 1.4.1 a) with "a minimum of 12 years”. This would mean municipalities would have to maintain a minimum 17-year supply of medium-term residential sites, assuming Official Plans are updated every 5 years; and 
  • Recommending that the proposal to allow single-tier and upper-tier municipalities the choice of maintaining “at least a five-year short-term land supply” instead of a three-year supply (Policy 1.4.1 b) be changed to require the maintenance of "at least a five-year supply” of short-term land. This would mean municipalities would have to maintain a minimum six-year supply of  short-term residential sites, assuming monitoring is done once a year.

CUR's submission also stresses the need to conduct residential land needs analyses by unit type, tenure and density to reflect “market-based" (or demographic) needs.

PDF fileView the Submission

"Time to Transition Municipal Employment Surveys into an Annual GGH-Wide Employment Survey"

September 16, 2019 - Annual surveys of employment and business counts are available for most municipalities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) but only one municipality in the rest of the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). Unfortunately, even where these surveys exist they have serious shortcomings, including: inter-municipal variation in terms of coverage; timing; collection procedures; and consistency over time. The surveys do not provide reliable employment growth estimates at the regional level or for many municipalities.

To ensure the collection of comprehensive and consistent employment data throughout the GTHA or GGH, employment surveys should be conducted and/or supervised by a centralized agency or body which would apply a standardized methodology to the process. This paper, authored by Frank Clayton and Hong Yun (Eva) Shi presents three options for transforming the current municipal surveys into a region-wide survey, including the preferred option of having a centralized body and the Ontario Growth Secretariat supervise the execution of the surveys by local municipalities.

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"Governments in Ontario Making Headway in Using Surplus Lands for Housing"

April 29, 2019 - The Ontario Real Estate Association and the Ontario Home Builders' Association jointly requested that the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University study ways to encourage the larger production of affordable housing in Ontario. This is the second report resulting from our research. 

Authored by Diana Petramala and David Amborski, this report examines how all three levels of governments in Ontario have been able to leverage surplus lands for housing, and lays out recommendations for further development in this area.

The examples studied in this report demonstrate how ramping up the use of public surplus lands can help ease the province's affordable housing challenge, if done appropriately.

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CUR Researchers Give Thumbs Up to the Direction of the Proposed Changes to the Growth Plan

March 12, 2019 - The Centre for Urban Research and Land Development's David Amborski (Director) and Frank Clayton (Senior Research Fellow) submitted comments to the Ontario Government's consultations on the Proposed Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. CUR concurs with the goals of achieving a more streamlined planning process, more land for housing and more housing and jobs near transit.

Amborski and Clayton proposed three key changes to the Proposed Amendment 1:

  • Replace Policy from the 2017 Growth Plan, which gave the Growth Plan primacy over Policy 1.4.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement, with text emphasizing municipalities must comply with Policy 1.4.1 and that the policy applies to housing unit types;
  • Drop the requirements that municipalities are to use the 2017 Provincial Land Methodology for residential lands; and
  • Define major transit station areas as a radius of approximately 800 metres, as opposed to the proposed range of 500 to 800 metres. 


PDF fileView the submission

"Transit Nodes in Ontario Have Untapped Development Potential"

March 7, 2019 - The Ontario Real Estate Association and the Ontario Home Builders' Association jointly requested that the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University study ways to encourage the larger production of housing in Ontario. This report is the result of our research. 

This report, authored by Diana Petramala and David Amborski, examines the potential to develop housing along Ontario’s major transit corridors.

There exists significant unmet development capacity across the 200 major transit nodes in Ontario, but outdated city by-laws protect much of it from higher transit supportive density. Carefully implementing as-of-right zoning along transit corridors is likely to be an effective action governments in Ontario can take to make room for additional housing supply, particularly missing middle housing.

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"A Strategy for Significantly Increasing the Supply of "Missing Middle" Housing in the City of Toronto"

February 6, 2019 - The Toronto Real Estate Board requested that the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University study ways for greatly expanding the supply of what is now called “missing middle” housing throughout the City of Toronto. This report is the result of our research. 

The report, authored by Frank Clayton and Diana Petramala, explores the role of missing middle housing in the Toronto market (both past and present), and the reasons for the limited production of new missing middle housing units relative to demand. Further, it provides recommendations for significantly increasing the supply of these types of housing units in Toronto in the future. 

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PDF fileView Frank Clayton's presentation at TREB's Economic Outlook Summit

"Action Plan for Improving Housing Affordability in the Greater Golden Horseshoe"

July 17, 2018 -  Housing affordability remains a challenge in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, a reality which has serious negative implications for economic and productivity in the region. As a new provincial government takes office, Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, (CUR), has put forth a number of recommendations to address impediments to the market's ability to respond to increased demand for housing. Central among these is the revision and proper implementation of the province's Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. 

Given the strength in demand for ground-related forms of housing, the Growth Plan's emphasis on apartment style housing results in policies which continue to aggravate the shortfall in both new and existing housing, which therefore reduces affordability. CUR recommends the Ontario Government reform the Growth Plan to increase its flexibility and receptiveness to market pressures. Chief among these recommendations is the need for a major review of the entire land use planning system, including the Growth Plan, to ensure more balanced objectives and minimize its undesirable impacts.

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"Countering Myths about Rising Ground-Related Housing Prices in the GTA: New Supply Really Matters"

April 25, 2017 - This report discusses the myths inherent in much of the current discussion of the rising housing price problem which are not supported by objective and comprehensive data-based research and presents the market realities.

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"City of Toronto Road Toll vs. Regional Congestion Charge"

February 1, 2017 - Economic analysis provides insights into the choice between two different approaches and levels of government undertaking pricing policies to address the external costs resulting from congestion in the Toronto Region. In applying an analysis using economic concepts, the use of regional congestion charges are superior to a City of Toronto-imposed road toll both in terms of economic efficiency, addressing the social congestion costs in the region, and in terms of the equity of, having the benefits of transit expenditures from the charges/tolls flow to those who make the payment. This is consistent with the thinking that regional problems require regional solutions or policies to be effective.

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"The Need to Make Housing Affordability a Primary Goal in Regional Planning for the Greater Golden Horseshoe"

November 8, 2016 - There is no doubt that the land use planning system in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is a mounting contributor to the rising prices of ground-related housing, according to researchers with Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CUR). Any consideration of economic costs are absent from both the current and the proposed Growth Plan. The economic costs with the greatest negative impact which will worsen as the years pass comes from the deliberate intent of the plan to suppress the supply of new ground-related houses (singles, semis and townhouses) while encouraging apartments. Given the strength of the underlying preferences for ground-related forms of housing, the end result is higher and higher prices of ground-related houses (both existing and new). This continued deterioration in affordably has serious negative implications for economic and productivity growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
Instead of constricting the supply of new ground-related housing even more, as proposed, the authors, Professor David Amborski and Dr. Frank Clayton, recommend the Ontario Government launch a research initiative to follow New Zealand’s path and to examine ways the land use planning system in the GGH is affecting housing costs and look at ways to reform the system to reduce the prices of all types of housing by making it more flexible and reception to market demands.

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"Affordable Housing and Land Supply Issues in the Greater Toronto Area - What the Academic Literature Tells Us"

November 4, 2016 - This Policy Report authored by CUR Director, Professor David Amborski, summarizes academic literature from the economics and planning fields to help understand a number of policy issues related to the land and housing market in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

His review of the literature provides a cautionary tale that we need to guard against over land-use regulation, and ensure that we need to examine not only the benefits, but also the costs, especially economic costs, of our regulatory policies, like the Growth Plan, prior to approving them.

With respect to the issue of the impact of land supply on recent increases in the price of ground-related housing units, it is concluded the relevant supply to be considered is land that is not only designated but also approved and serviced for development. There is no doubt that deficiencies in the supply of these lands are contributing to rising house prices in the GTA.

The literature also demonstrates that both containment policies and land use regulation have impacts on land/housing prices and housing affordability in the U.S., Britain, Europe and New Zealand.

Finally, the report identifies recent research reporting on empirical studies which indicate high house prices and diminished affordability resulting from land use regulation have adverse impacts on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) produced by urban regions, and the disparity between high and low income households which persists and is growing in some regions.

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"Density Benefit Incentives in Metro Vancouver: Lessons for the Greater Golden Horseshoe"

November 2015 - This policy report authored by Adam Mattinson argues that Ontario municipalities should be required to refine their process for negotiating density-amenity agreements under Section 37 of the Planning Act. With municipalities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe seeking to offset the impacts of density and intensification within their neighbourhoods through Section 37 negotiations, more predictable and transparent methods are necessary in order to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for both developers and communities at large.

Municipalities in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia have an established history of successfully using similar, comparable policy frameworks to great effect in this regard. Case studies from three Metro Vancouver area municipalities are analysed to demonstrate potential alternatives for managing these density-for-benefit agreements. 

It is recommended that Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing incorporate the lessons learned from these case studies as part of their ongoing review of Section 37 in order to provide municipalities with better guidance for implementing local density benefit incentive policy frameworks.

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"Why There is a Shortage of New Ground-Related Housing in the GTA"

June 2015 - This paper argues that a shortage of serviced land is the major contributor to a marked decline in the production of new ground-related homes in the GTA thus contributing to the sharp rise in prices. According to TD Economics this underproduction of ground-related housing is contributing to poorer housing choices and reduced mobility of GTA households as well as contributing to deteriorating affordability.

This shortage has occurred despite the Provincial government requirement that municipalities maintain a minimum three-year supply of serviced and readily serviceable land at all times. Most GTA municipalities are not even monitoring the adequacy of their short-term land supply.

It is recommended that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing immediately undertake to create an inventory of the short-term land supply by unit type in the GTA, to require regions to report on the adequacy of their short-term land supply at least annually and to work with errant regions to accelerate their supply of short-term land.

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"Are the Growth Plan Population Forecasts on Target?"

April 1, 2015 - Fundamental to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (the “Growth Plan”) are the forecasts of population and employment for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) as a whole and for the region’s component upper- and single-tier municipalities. In this report, recently-released population estimates by Statistics Canada  for 2011-2014 are applied as a check of the veracity of the population forecasts underlying the Growth Plan in the current five-year period (2011-2016) of the longer-term planning horizon. All population growth figures referenced below are expressed in terms of average  growth per year.

The analysis finds that the annual  growth for the Greater Golden Horseshoe as a whole has been modestly less than the growth  forecast for the Growth Plan. All of the actual shortfall has been in the Outer Ring of the region. For the region’s economic heartland, the Greater Toronto Region and Hamilton, the estimated actual growth has matched the growth  that is being forecast.

Within the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, estimated annual population growth in the City of Toronto and Peel Region have exceeded the forecasts while actual growth in York and Durham Regions fell short. All three sub-forecast areas within the Outer Ring have had lower growth than forecast with the largest absolute difference occurring in Waterloo Region.

Appendix Figure B-3 compares estimated average annual growth 2011-2014 to the growth forecast for 2011-2016 by municipality.

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"Making Toronto's Tax System Better - Repeal the Land Transfer Tax"

February 2015 - The Land Transfer Tax (LTT) imposed by the City of Toronto in early 2008 remains controversial with the real estate industry fervently pleading for its repeal. In contrast, with the tax generating a considerable revenue stream – a record $432 million in 2014 – City Council and its staff advisors are reluctant to tinker with the tax, let alone eliminate it.

This policy report released by the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CUR) of the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University and authored by Dr. Frank Clayton, CUR Senior Research Fellow, provides insight into two questions: How should Toronto residents regard the LTT – as a good tax, a bad tax, or simply a tolerable tax? And would the city's tax system be improved by dropping the LTT and replacing foregone revenues with higher property taxes?

The analysis concludes that while Toronto's land transfer tax is tolerable, it should be replaced over time by higher property taxes. The city's local taxation system would be made significantly fairer and future tax revenue more stable if the LTT is dropped and the revenue foregone is made up by higher property taxes.

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"Reusing Older Industrial Areas: An Effective Tool for Providing Affordable Market Housing for Families in the City of Toronto"

December 2014 - There is widespread concern about the lack of affordable new housing suitable for families in the City of Toronto. This policy report released by the Centre for Urban Research and Development (CUR) of the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University demonstrates a proven way for the City of Toronto to harness the private housing industry to build more affordable lower-density types of housing appropriate for families with children at no financial cost to the City.

Author Dr. Frank Clayton, a Senior Research Fellow at CUR, in Reusing Older Industrial Areas: An Effective Tool for Providing Affordable Market Housing for Families in the City of Torontodocuments the transformation of a former older industrial/commercial area into a vibrant residential community around the Warden Subway station called Warden Woods. According to RealNet Canada, a total of 1,449 new homes, consistently mainly of townhouses, semi-detached dwellings and low-rise apartments, have been sold in Warden Woods since mid-2006.

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"A New Direction for Funding Growth-Related Water and Wastewater Infrastructure in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton"

November 2014 - In this policy report, Dr. Frank Clayton, Senior Research Fellow at CUR, examines the topic of financing of growth-related water and wastewater infrastructure in the Greater Toronto Area plus Hamilton (GTAH). At present, these growth-related water and wastewater capital costs are funded through development charges amounting up to $26,000 per new housing unit. He observes that other utilities, like natural gas, telecommunications and electricity, set user charges such to include the costs of growth-related infrastructure. He concludes that shifting the financing from development charges to user charges would have a number of benefits to the wider community in the GTAH. It is recommended that municipalities in the GTAH reorganize their water and wastewater services to be independent utilities and shift the funding of growth-related water and wastewater infrastructure to user charges from development charges over a period of five years.

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