Canadian Contractor

By RESCON   

AECO & RESCON hope pilot will set the stage for Ontario-wide digital approvals process

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AECO Innovation Lab, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) and organizations in the One Ontario coalition are delighted that CMHC has announced $2.35 million for a pilot to implement a centralized, one-window digital platform to streamline and modernize the residential development approvals process in Simcoe County. The pilot could be used as a model for a more streamlined development review process across Ontario.

“This funding will enable us to move forward with a technology solution to streamline pre-construction processes and help get housing and affordable housing built faster,” says AECO CEO Arash Shahi. “The blueprint that we have developed will remove barriers, eliminate data silos, and ensure applications can be processed more quickly to improve housing affordability in the region.”

Funding for the initiative is being made available through CMHC’s Housing Supply Challenge. AECO collaborated and partnered with regulatory organizations, the county, municipalities, conservation authorities, key agencies, and others to develop a blueprint to implement the platform. It will include a portal for submission, data exchange platform to enable transfer of information between groups, application tracking to support applicants and inform policy decisions, and a workflow engine to develop a seamless process that will improve efficiency, reduce errors and improve communication between municipalities, Indigenous communities, and others.

Processes for residential projects are presently lengthy and complex which results in delays and increased costs that lead to higher housing prices, lower supply, and fewer affordable housing units. Streamlining communications will make things easier to process for all parties and provide certainty for developers. Simcoe is ideal for the pilot as the county has a mix of urban, rural, and Indigenous perspectives.

The platform will have three major parts:

  • A standardized One-Window Portal that will allow applicants to submit one set of drawings and documents and be used to communicate the status of the application with the applicant.
  • An Intelligent Data Exchange Platform that ensures applications are complete and accessible to relevant staff within municipalities, the county and applicable agencies. The system will be able to track when submissions have been made, documents have been uploaded, communications have occurred, or approvals have been granted.
  • A Regional Development Application Manager which will be used for the county’s workflows, document control, drawing reviews, and other application management tools to track the applications.

“This proof-of-concept pilot will set the stage for a more efficient development review process across Ontario and help tackle the housing supply crisis by streamlining the approvals system and reducing costs,” says RESCON president Richard Lyall. “We have been backing this initiative because lack of standardized processes makes development applications more complicated, time consuming and fragmented, resulting in delays that impact housing affordability and supply. CMHC has got the ball rolling. We hope the province will provide funding to move the needle even further.”

Both AECO and RESCON maintain there is an urgent need for a connected and integrated development approvals system at the regional and provincial level. For every month a project is delayed, a 125-home, low-rise development and a 125-unit high-rise incur $456,000 and $276,000, respectively, in extra cost due to loan-carrying charges, increased municipal charges, and inflation.

A more efficient system will result in municipalities seeing property taxes and other fees from projects earlier. As a result, the additional revenues can be spent on initiatives such as creating inclusive places within communities or supporting more affordable housing projects.

Once implemented in Simcoe County, AECO will be looking to expand the initiative to other regions across Ontario and Canada. The platform will be scaled to accommodate a variety of needs.

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