Gleaner

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Renters not lower caste

July 3rd, 2015 · 1 Comment

Westbank Corp. has submitted its building application to the City of Toronto for the redevelopment of the Honest Ed’s site and the adjoining Mirvish Village. The store has been saying a long goodbye for some time now but it’s finally slated for closure Dec. 31, 2016. Though the building application is in, it is far from complete. It’s a complex site given the elaborate plans the Vancouver-based developer Westbank has very publicly mused about. Still Westbank is anxious to move forward before the mood of enthusiasm for the project wanes.

The proposed 1,000 residential units, half of which are two-bedroom or more, are going to be rental, not condos as was widely believed. This has caused a small tsunami in the minds of some residents. In terms of density, it’s an additional 3,500 residents in the Annex and their future impact on the area is unknown. The rental element has conjured up in the minds of some that the “wrong element” will take residence. There is an uncomfortable xenophobic sound to that sentiment.

Rental accommodation is what this city needs. According to Employment and Social Development Canada, Toronto’s rental vacancy rate stood at a scant 1.7 per cent in 2014. While no up-to-date figures are available on the subject, creating extra space at a major intersection and on a subway line could be argued as fulfilling an acute need.

We are at a crossroads. Pressure to accommodate a growing population will naturally find an outlet in tall buildings built near subway lines. This is sensible and consistent with the view that urban sprawl represents bad planning, because it is damaging to the environment, and is an inefficient use of all forms of infrastructure.

It’s a myth that all renters don’t care about community values and are not “house proud” because they have no stake in the game. This view fails to recognize that many condos out there contain tenants who are renting from owners who may not even live in the country. In contrast, Westbank plans to be an on-site landlord.

The idea of renting instead of buying so you can live where you want is a quality of life decision that has merit. Buying a house in the Annex these days is arguably a financially unattainable goal for the vast majority of people. Rental vacancies in Toronto are low, and these 1,000, many suitable for families, would be a very welcome addition to the urban inventory.

Architect Gregory Henriquez’s recent visit to the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association (PARA) Annual General Meeting fanned the flames of area residents’ increasing anxiety about the project when he mused about the high percentage of affordable housing in his other developments and the provisions he had previously made for clean injection sites and accommodating the homeless. God forbid we should provide shelter to those that lack it. The PARA executive and the architect agreed at the outset that they would not answer questions about the Honest Ed’s project, only general ones about his portfolio of work. This was an error in judgment that allowed a suspicious audience to “cut and paste” the architect’s socially progressive track record onto this pending development.

It has been argued that this is another St. James Town in the making. Built in the sixties and seventies, well off the beaten track, poorly constructed with no amenities, and overpopulated with 25,000 people, St. James Town is a massive planning failure. The Westbank development is no island like St. James Town. It is located at a core intersection of Bathurst and Bloor streets, right on the subway, filled with amenities, and envisaged to be built to a high standard where the builder plans to be the long-term owner-operator. This is what sets this development apart. This is not a build it and run proposition.

Lumping all developers into the same camp is a blunt instrument approach, which does not encourage developers to propose creative, civic-minded projects. It’s time to set cynicism aside and respond to this proposal with the same positive spirit it offers us.

Tags: Annex · News · Editorial

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher King // Jul 4, 2015 at 11:26 am

    It’s a myth that all renters don’t care about community values and are not “house proud” because they have no stake in the game.

    No, it’s not a myth. Just because 50 renters take part in activities and work that benefits their local communities, it is the ABSENCE of the 5-600 other people living in the same building which pretty much sums it up, and why so many volunteers burn out so quickly. One can only be expected to do so much before throwing their hands up in disgusts and walking away.