The vision to implement a centralized, streamlined development approvals process in Ontario is one step closer to becoming reality, thanks to funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

On Oct. 6, the CMHC announced $2.35 million in funding for a pilot to implement the One Ontario platform, a one-window, digital platform to streamline and modernize the residential development approvals process in Simcoe County. Funding is being provided through CMHC’s Housing Supply Challenge.

The announcement coincided with the Housing Supply Summit 2.0: Progress Report hosted by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). AECO Innovation Lab, which spearheaded the One Ontario Coalition, RESCON and partner organizations say the pilot could be used as a model across Ontario and Canada.

Ontario is the first province to implement the system and AECO CEO Arash Shahi is hoping the program gets expanded to other regions.

“The One Ontario coalition is growing now with CMHC at the table. We are inviting and hoping that the provincial government will also join us and basically be able to roll this out across the entire province in the coming months and a few years,” he said.

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“We have a lot of support from the county itself and all the different groups that play in that space. It’s a sample for regional government solutions across the country, starting with Ontario and then expanding to Canada. We have the support of a number of federal agencies behind this initiative.”

AECO collaborated and partnered with regulatory organizations, the county, municipalities, conservation authorities, key agencies and others to develop a blueprint to implement the platform.

“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,” Shahi said. “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.”

Why now?

“There is a lot of momentum provincially and federally behind solving the housing crisis and some of those problems reside with our development approvals system,” said Shahi.

RESCON president Richard Lyall agreed.

“This proof-of-concept pilot will set the stage for a more efficient development review process across Ontario and help tackle the housing supply,” he said in a statement. “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.”

According to a release, the platform 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.

It will include 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 and 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; and a regional development application manager will be used for the county’s workflows, document control, drawing reviews and other application management tools to track the applications.

Shahi said the time for change is now.

“What happened in 2020 as soon as the pandemic hit, a lot of municipalities who didn’t have digital solutions had to shut down. Those who had solutions could stay open and it was a wakeup call for our government sector and public sector to basically get on with the times and digitize and streamline going forward,” he said.

“Over the next months and a few years, I think we’re going to see a lot of transformation in the space. The solution, in our view, resides at the intersection of industry, academia and government. None of those sectors individually can actually solve the problem.

“If the government alone was going to do it, they would have done it already. It’s important to work on a collaborative basis.”

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What areas are in Simcoe County?

Municipalities Municipalities. Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury. Town of Collingwood. Town of Innisfil. Town of Midland. Town of New Tecumseth. Town of Penetanguishene. Town of Wasaga Beach.