Joe Vaccaro is a man on a mission. As Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) since 2013, his commitment to the housing industry is total and goes back a long way. Now his commitment includes solutions to Ontario’s growing housing crisis.
“I’ve been on housing job sites since I was nine years old,” Vaccaro says. Working every summer from the age of 15 to 21 for his dad’s residential framing company, Vaccaro found time to graduate from York University and secure a position with a member of the provincial parliament opposition. With the Liberals under then-premier Dalton McGuinty forming the Ontario provincial government in 2003, Vaccaro’s MPP was elevated to Minister of Economic Development and Trade. Vaccaro served under him in government for about two years.
Vaccaro came to the Ontario Home Builders’ Association in 2005 as a policy analyst. Organized into 29 local associations, the OHBA has represented professionals in the new-home and renovation industry for almost 60 years, with some 4,000-plus companies currently members of the association.
Now, having taken on the position of CEO of OHBA, Vaccaro says, “I would say I’ve spent my life in this industry.”
A volunteer body, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association serves as the voice of the province’s land development, building, and professional renovation industry. With the key intention of positively impacting issues and policies that affect the sector, including provincial legislative, regulatory, and tax policies, the OHBA is well placed to perceive that the traditional dream – and goal – of owning your own home is slipping out of reach for many.
Ontario was a very different place back when the association was created in 1962. With a population today of 14.57 million and rising, many are asking questions like, where will newcomers to the province be housed? Those living in urbanized areas, like Toronto, are feeling the housing pinch, as many homes are selling for tens of thousands of dollars above anticipated price levels, and the cost of a simple one-bedroom apartment is now a challenging $2,500 per month.
Realizing that cost and a lack of housing stock are serious provincial issues needing to be addressed, OHBA initiated several successful campaigns, starting with #Homebeliever (www.homebeliever.ca) in January 2017.
Together with elected officials, OHBA set out to bring everyone around to a set of values all Ontarians can agree on. OHBA launched #Homebeliever into an Ontario environment where both population growth and housing demand were high, and prices pushing affordability to the limit.
“And so now we fall into an area where lots of policies, entrepreneurs, and academics are weighing into how you can make housing more affordable, and in that environment we found ourselves losing the thread of some basic values,” says Vaccaro.
Taking the pledge
“So we launched the #Homebeliever campaign to be a conversation starter, and to frame the conversation around some basic principles we felt everyone could agree on.” Spanning views across the political spectrum, the #Homebeliever campaign focuses on the Great Canadian Dream of home ownership and affordable housing in the communities where Ontarians live, work and play; building strategies to generate more housing choice and supply across the province.
With pledge cards in tow, OHBA asks public officials, elected officials, candidates for elected office, academics, the general public – everyone who feels strongly about housing and housing policies – to sign the pledge, affirming that they too are ‘home believers.’
“Our belief was that at least if we can start from that shared position, then we can talk about policy, not in an academic vacuum, but in the market and regulatory environment that we are working,” Vaccaro says.
Taking the campaign to Queen’s Park — the seat of the provincial legislature — the premier, the opposition, and members of provincial parliament were encouraged to sign up. This successful launch at Queen’s Park saw 40 MPPs from all political parties signing off on the campaign pledge, affirming that they were ‘home believers.’ It remains a tremendous starting point of shared values surrounding home ownership, the need for more choice and supply in the marketplace, and a great starting place to talk about housing policy.
On the road, the #Homebeliever campaign engaged with candidates, pressing them to sign up in the interests of their constituencies. This resulted in over 100 candidates pledging their support. Making the most of photo opportunities, the campaign was amplified on social media platforms such as Twitter. Besides the MPPs, the campaign saw over 2,000 returned signed postcards or sign the pledge electronically.
A million homes
While #Homebeliever remains the OHBA’s core campaign, it was joined by a second in May 2018, #weNeed1MILLIONhomes. This was more than justified by recent government projections showing that 2.6 million more people will be making Ontario their home by 2031, greatly increasing demand for housing.
So population increase over the next 12 years means that at least a million more homes will be needed to create market balance, and ensure that every home believer can afford to live in their chosen community with decent housing options. It will be a challenge, to say the least.
Realistically, not all newcomers can expect to settle into single-family homes, townhouses, or condominiums. Some will rent apartments or take other options, such as renting rooms.
“We have to look for an opportunity to provide these home believers with all these options in these communities,” says Vaccaro. Launching the #weNeed1MILLIONhomes campaign to focus on the true challenges and realities surrounding Ontario housing, there is no doubt that with an exploding population, the need for additional housing is genuine.
“Housing will be a Top Five issue, because the reality is we are growing as a population,” says Vaccaro. “The way we need to respond to that as policymakers and government is to be helpful, and create policy that ultimately delivers the one million homes that we need in the province.”
Bold leaders needed
Along with #Homebeliever and #weNeed1MILLIONhomes, the OHBA and its network of 29 local associations are strongly supporting Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choices Act, 2019, and the Housing Supply Action Plan. In its response to three proposed regulations under the act in May, OHBA stated: “Now is the time for bold leadership to fix a generational housing and supply challenge that is making both home ownership and rental housing unaffordable.”
In October, OHBA released its Provincial Policy Statement Submission to the Honourable Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Stressing the urgent need for more housing in the province, the OHBA outlined its general support for the “Vision for Ontario’s Land-Use Planning System” to the PPS, including suggested amendments. Among the areas addressed are building strong and healthy communities, settlement areas, land use compatibility, employment areas, public spaces, transportation systems, and more.
Working with a small but energized staff of eight, a board of over 45 voluntary members, and about 100 active volunteers, the OHBA continues to support housing choice and supply across Ontario. With engaged members covering the entire spectrum of housing including contractors, builders, developers, manufacturers, suppliers and others, the Association reacts to provincial government policies, from planning, building codes, and employment standards, to construction health and safety.
Growing body of law
“It’s amazing when you think about how many laws, regulations and policies impact the industry both from a home-building and a renovator perspective, because we have renovator members as well, and then the supply chain within that,” says Vaccaro. “Our Association is a volunteer Association, and we welcome anyone from the home building industry, renovation industry, or associates. Planning firms, law firms, banks, suppliers, and effectors are all welcome to join the Association, and they do. So our 4,000 membership includes builders, developers, renovators, and other associates involved in supporting home-building and renovation in the province.”
With the residential construction industry employing over half-a-million men and women, and contributing over $60 billion to Ontario’s economy, OHBA members have built more than 700,000 homes in the last decade in over 500 of the province’s communities.
Turning policy into housing
In closing, Vaccaro summarizes the overall direction and message of OHBA. “We are focused on provincial advocacy, and we are focused on how that advocacy does a number of key things. First of all, it helps to create more housing supply and choice across Ontario and supports home believers. But also, we are very much aware of how our advocacy work supports our members’ businesses, and hopefully provides opportunities for them to grow their businesses. So it is very important that we always connect back what we do here to their businesses and their value-add,” he says.
“So that’s what we do, that’s one of our focuses, and we are actively reminding people that being a member of the Association is not simply a question of provincial advocacy: it’s advocacy that works for you, and for your business. That’s our core message to our members. We spend our days talking about policy, but we know that policy needs to turn into housing supply, housing choice, and business opportunities for members.”