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Places To Grow Act

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Is the Blueprint for Where to Invest In Ontario

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How the Places to Grow Act Affects Real Estate

If you’ve ever looked around your city and found yourself wondering where all these condominium buildings under construction came from, you might be interested to know that a lot of it stems from Ontario’s Places to Grow Act, legislated in 2005, which was followed closely by the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe in 2006.
The Act was designed to stimulate urban growth and population density in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, while simultaneously curbing urban sprawl.

The Greater Golden Horseshoe is a dynamic and diverse area, and one of the fastest growing regions in North America. By 2051, this area is forecast to grow to 14.8 million people and 6.3 million jobs. The magnitude and pace of this growth necessitates a plan for building healthy and balanced communities and maintaining and improving our quality of life while adapting to the demographic shift underway.

This Act is the Ontario Government’s plan to encourage growth and development in a way that fosters economic prosperity, protects the environment, and helps communities achieve a high quality of life. As part of this Act, the government has developed regional growth plans that help guide government investments and policies.

What Are Urban Growth Centres?

The GTA is seeing tremendous growth!

One prominent reason this Act was put into place was to help curb unmanaged growth commonly seen throughout some suburban areas where neighbourhoods aren’t connected, pedestrian-friendly, or easily accessible by public transit. Since the GTA is currently one of the fastest growing communities in North America, many of the large lots and even larger homes aren’t always the best option for housing this new growth. This Plan is about accommodating forecasted growth in complete communities. The Plan has designated 25 Urban Growth Centres across Southern Ontario. This has resulted in monumental growth in the Greater Toronto Area, where many Designated Growth Centres were appointed.

What does Urban Growth Centres mean for communities?

It means you’re likely to see a lot more vertical growth, which means more condominiums. Condominiums will be the most popular and affordable type of new housing built throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Not only that, it means you’re going to see a lot more master-planned communities where you can live, work, shop, and play in a vibrant, self-sufficient neighbourhood. This makes for healthier communities where residents are encouraged to walk, shop locally, and mingle with their neighbours. It also decreases gridlock and traffic congestion.

This focus on urban growth means that there is an increased demand for condo developments and master-planned communities. The plan has already transformed how we’re living in the GTA, which is evidenced by looking back to 10 years ago where 80% of the newly built homes were low-rises, while only 20% of homes were in high-rise buildings.

Urban Growth Centres
Image courtesy of the Government of Ontario

This is a stark contrast to development today as 70% of new homes are high-rise communities compared to low-rise homes only accounting for 30%. These numbers are going to continue shifting towards high-rise communities, making condos the homes of the future. To address these challenges and ensure the protection and effective use of finite resources, A Place to Grow Plan, together with the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, builds on the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) to establish a unique land use planning framework for the Greater Golden Horseshoe that supports the achievement of complete communities, a thriving economy, a clean and healthy environment, and social equity.

The Growth Plan Comes With Certain Restrictions

The Growth Plan also comes with certain restrictions that are intended to preserve regions of the province that are designated as “greenbelt” areas. This means that not only are developers restricted to building in certain areas, they are also restricted to what kind of structures they can build. Anticipating exponential growth in population and employment opportunities in the GTA, these structures are encouraged to be mostly condominiums. With these vertical communities, the act focuses on:

  • Revitalizing downtown to become vibrant and convenient centres.
  • Creating communities that offer more options for living, working, shopping, and playing.
  • Providing housing to meet the needs of people and families at any age.
  • Preventing sprawl and protecting green-space.
  • Reducing traffic congestion by improving access to a variety of transportation options.
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The Details of the Places To Grow Act
Image courtesy of the Government of Ontario

The Details About the Places to Grow Act

The goals of this Act is to build walkable neighbourhoods that have superior access to public transit and local amenities. The Province of Ontario has been working closely with municipalities in these efforts, and the effects can already be felt. New light rail systems have been planned in Midtown Toronto and Mississauga, and they are concentrated around the designated urban growth centres.

At its core, this Act hopes to accomplish three things:

  • Sustain a robust economy.
  • Build thriving communities that use land, resources, and existing infrastructure in a responsible and efficient way.
  • Promote a healthy environment with a focus on conservation.

The 2005 Places to Grow Act was quickly followed by the 2006 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which has been further revised with the 2020 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This came after 2 years of consultation with members from the respective communities, stakeholders, Indigenous communities, and an advisory panel chaired by former Mayor of Toronto David Crombie.

The largest conclusion to come from this updated plan is the intensification of Designated Greenfield Areas. The current benchmark for greenfield areas is to have 50 residents and jobs per hectare, and they aim to increase that number to 80 residents and jobs by 2031, with an interim target of 60 residents and jobs per hectarestarting in 2022. For areas closer to urban centres, the targets are 150 residents and jobs per hectare for regions with GO Transit, 160 residents and jobs per hectare in regions with an LRT or busrapit transit, and 200 residents and jobs per hectare in regions with a subway.

The update also focuses on building a diverse range of housing options in urban centres. It is vital that there’s a variety of housing choices for differently sized families and incomes. It’s up to the municipalities to supply a spectrum of condos, apartments and townhomes with a variety of unit sizes. This Act is as much about land conservation as it is about urban densification. It is a concerted effort to preserve our province’s natural history and resources. This is why there are specific provisions that explore issues like protecting water sources, growing the greenbelt, supporting a viable agricultural sector, and building a response to climate change.

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe in 2019

The Growth Plan Act consists of 3 significant components that have really changed how the building and development industry builds today:

  • 2 million acres of land are reserved and protected in an area called the Greenbelt. This means that the building and development industry has to operate in accordance with the provincial plan. Developers are restricted from building on these preserved lands until 2041.
  • Design complete communities, The Growth Plan has identified and targeted “25 urban growth centres” as regional focal points for accommodating population and employment growth. They will prioritize intensification in high density areas to efficiently use the land and infrastructure, while also supporting transit viability.  A minimum of 40% of this new intensification will be done in the downtown core.
  • Housing demand issues play a big part for many communities who are facing housing affordability concerns. Demand can be driven by sustained population growth, low rental vacancy rates, and other complex socio-economic factors. The Growth Plan addresses this challenge by encouraging a mix of housing types, particularly affordable and high density housing  that can accommodate a range of household sizes in locations with good access to transit and other amenities. This will make condos more attainable - and more affordable.

And Where Are We Doing Most of the Growth You Ask?

Most of the growth will happen in the Delineated Built-up Areas, A minimum of 50 per cent of all residential development occurring annually within each of the Cities of Barrie, Brantford, Guelph, Hamilton, Orillia and Peterborough and the Regions of Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo and York will be within the delineated built-up area.

Also in the Urban Growth Centres as planned:

What Does the Places to Grow Act Mean for Investors?

With a focus on urban density and building vertically, there are going to be a lot of condo developments in the near future. Municipalities and the province are working together with developers to create vibrant communities in which people can live, work and play. This means that in addition to the sheer wealth of condos that are springing up, there are terrific opportunities for profit and equity growth as neighbourhoods surrounding condo projects work to increase the value of the property.

A prime example of this is the development of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, which is striving to create the new ‘Downtown North.’ Soon this will be regarded as one of the most dynamic employment centres in the GTA, as well as being a lively residential community. Homes here will be judged by their own merits instead of their proximity to Downtown Toronto.

The shift from low-density to high-density housing has been directed by provincial intensification policies that encourage a more sustainable approach to urban development. Homebuyers want to choose the type of home that suits their lifestyle throughout the various stages of life - and choice in the low-rise market is diminishing. Prices for the low-rise market is the highest it’s ever been, and it’s driving the buyers towards the high-rise market. Condos seem to be the only option for the first time homebuyer.
This means condominiums are the way of the future and will be in high demand. With a growing population, and growing employment opportunities along with it, many families, professionals and students will be seeking places to rent, and they’ll likely turn towards condominium units situated in vibrant, mixed communities.
In some parts of the GTA, such as Markham, we’ve already seen conditions where a huge employment boom combined with a lack of rental housing has led to wait lists, even bidding wars, for condominium rentals.
Once you factor in the green space, walking paths, and lifestyle amenities that will be at your fingertips, these urban communities aren't just fantastic places to live, but great places to invest in for the future.

The Places to Grow Act offers a rare opportunity to be part of a major urban renewal effort in Southern Ontario. There are regions throughout the GTA that have been identified as new urban centres, and they will entice homebuyers and employment opportunities in the near future. The time to invest in these areas is now, before the market heats up.

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