I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about this issue. Decades ago I helped organize a quite successful municipal election campaign around the issue of development charges. At that time, the city had hired consultants who said that raising development charges was a way of discouraging low-density, single-family home spread. And this was essential to the long-term financial stability of Guelph because low-density development cost more to maintain than the taxes that could be raised from single-family, fully-detached housing.

The city originally decided to make housing development charges pay the full cost of servicing, but then the development community had a in-camera meeting with Council, after which Council changed its mind. (I hope that's right---I'm working from memory.) The issue became moot shortly afterwards because the province stepped-in and removed the power of the municipality to do something like make development charges pay the full cost. (Either way, I suspect that the Ontario Municipal Board would have allowed the rule to stand anyway.)

My soul-searching has come down to wondering if my support for full-cost servicing was a bad idea anyway. Was I just supporting the sort of policies that ended-up impoverishing huge numbers of people by denying them access to affordable housing? I haven't been able to come to a conclusion. But I strongly suspect that when my organization was spreading the message that new housing needs to pay for its servicing, I was operating from a very different place than most of the others.

I wasn't concerned about new housing or even taxes---I wanted less low density, suburban sprawl and I thought that if we made home owners pay the real cost of servicing their homes, the city would end up with higher-density housing. Instead, what seems to have happened is existing home-owners decided that they just didn't want anyone else to buy a home---low or high density---if there was a chance that it would cost them something in the higher taxes or reduced property values.

The development charges discussion seems to be poisoned by the idea that old home owners don't want to subsidize new ones. My understanding is that the Doug Ford govt in Ontario has changed the law forcing municipalities to dramatically reduce service charges for infill that raises density in old neighbourhoods---but I've seen nothing but outrage over this from the so-called 'progressive' elements in the city, who seem to think that this is going to result in lowered water pressure and backed-up sewers.

On the whole, though, I don't think that many people really don't know much about the new rules governing Ontario developers and municipal plans. They just have an ideological notion that nothing good can come out of the Doug Ford govt, and that's all they need to know that cutting development charges is a bad thing. This is why Russil's substack is so important. Thanks for the work you do!

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Thanks, Bill. I think the argument for discouraging sprawl and encouraging infill makes sense (I think of it as the "Strong Towns" argument), but it requires that development charges be waived or at least reduced for infill housing.

I thought the cautious nature of Sancton's policy recommendations was interesting. He wasn't suggesting sweeping changes.

By the way, the reason I saw this working paper in the first place was that someone recommended it on Twitter to the mayor of Guelph! https://twitter.com/CamGuthrie/status/1678057872649756673

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