December 6, 2022
As a non-profit and non-partisan research institute, Wellesley Institute works on research and policy to improve health and health equity across the Greater Toronto Area. Our mission is to advance population health and reduce health inequities through applied research, effective policy solutions, knowledge mobilization and innovation.
This submission provides feedback for the proposed amendments to the Greenbelt Plan, which would remove or redesignate 15 areas of land and add lands in the Paris Galt Moraine area. We understand the government’s intention is to make more land available for development for market housing. It is important to note that though market-based solutions to build more homes may contribute to solving our housing crisis, they cannot substitute for funding the construction of housing that is healthy, adequate, and affordable for everyone who needs it at all income levels.
Wellesley Institute supports the provincial government’s efforts to identify solutions to the current housing crisis and work to expand affordable housing opportunities across Ontario, and in particular, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). However, we are concerned that removing lands from the Greenbelt Area to make way for residential development is an inefficient use of the existing Greenbelt that will do little to help those most in need of housing and will result in negative health and equity impacts on GTA residents.
The Greenbelt Area is an essential part of preserving Ontario’s natural ecosystem services, including providing locally-grown nutritious food and clean water, flood protection, physical and mental health benefits, and the regulation of air and water pollution. These services are critical for GTA residents. The Greenbelt provides communities with access to quality green space, which is shown to have a positive influence on mental health and wellbeing; reduces air pollution, which is linked to many adverse health problems; and protects against the harmful impacts of climate change, which affects the environmental and social determinants of health. The report by the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force earlier this year also emphasized the need to protect Greenbelts and other environmentally sensitive areas, as they are critical for food security in the GTA.
Where people live has an enormous influence on their physical and mental health and wellbeing. Wellesley Institute’s work on housing and health, as well as wealth of other research from around the world, has repeatedly demonstrated the need to build affordable housing units in existing urban and other settlement areas where people already work, live, and play. This ensures that people have easy and equitable access to services, good jobs, schools and post-secondary institutions, transportation, and opportunities for social connection – all of which are essential for healthy and resilient communities.
We encourage the Government of Ontario to re-evaluate the proposed changes to the Greenbelt Area and rather focus on ensuring increased and affordable density in communities across the GTA. Wellesley Institute research indicates that affordable mixed-income housing strengthens individual and population health. Reflecting this, the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities proposed measures that are also in line with recommendations by the Housing Affordability Task Force, including permitting “as-of-right” zoning to allow for more multi-unit and multi-tenant housing units, secondary suites, garden suites, and laneway houses in low-rise residential neighbourhoods province-wide.
The Wellesley Institute urges the Government of Ontario to widely encourage the use of Health Equity Impact Assessments (HEIA) to ensure that future service, program, or policy changes do not lead to worsening health disparities for health disadvantaged populations. HEIAs ensure that a health equity lens is consistently used in policy making and analysis and that health disparities are identified early so policymakers can understand and influence how programs and policies affect the health outcomes of GTA residents. This could be beneficial to ensure that proposed changes, such as the amendments to the Greenbelt Plan, do not risk worsening inequities and causing harm to vulnerable communities.
 EcoHealth Ontario resources. https://www.ecohealthontario.ca/resources
 Greenbelt Foundation. (2020). Health in a Changing Climate. https://www.greenbelt.ca/health_in_a_changing_climate
 Report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force https://files.ontario.ca/mmah-housing-affordability-task-force-report-en-2022-02-07-v2.pdf
 Mahamoud, A. et al. (2012) “Housing and Health: Examining the links.” Wellesley Institute. https://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/publications/housing-and-health-examining-the-links/
 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities. (2020). https://www.2020declaration.ca/
 Wellesley Institute. Health Equity Impact Assessment. https://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/health-equity/heath-equity-impact-assessment/