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FORUM: Undoing vacant home tax debacle (May 2024)

June 14th, 2024 · No Comments

Booze in parks gets green light, revamp of recycling on the horizon

By Dianne Saxe

Spring arrived early this year with turbulent weather in April and sunshine in May. It’s also been an eventful season: I hope you had a chance to enjoy the total solar eclipse, the Easter parades, Earth Day’s 45th anniversary, Toronto’s luscious bounty of cherry blossoms, and holiday meals with friends and family.

April’s council was dominated by a determination to fix the vacant home tax. I’m sure you’ve all heard moving stories about the over 65,000 Torontonians who received large, frightening tax bills for the homes they live in. No wonder so many of you wrote to our office for help! All of the incorrect bills should now have been reversed, and staff are working overtime to resolve the thousands of complaints. Toronto city council waived late declaration fees and instructed the city’s finance staff to completely rework the program for next year, possibly including my suggestion to allow residents to show occupancy through their utility data.

Second, Toronto city council relaunched the city’s climate resilience program which was dropped during COVID. We know that climate “weirding” is already costing the city heavily, with much more coming, and that planning ahead will soften the blow.

Third, it’s now clear that provincial rules will hand Toronto’s recycling system to the private sector on Jan. 1, 2026 and will cut the number of public recycling bins in half. I expect a bumpy rollout, especially if the new operator keeps using the city’s green bins marked with our logo. Staff are working to minimize the impact.

Fourth, Toronto city council has collaborated on fixing several loopholes that are used to cheat our short-term rentals bylaw to create things like “ghost hotels” while preserving income opportunities for legitimate hosts. For example, hosts will have to provide better evidence that a proposed short-term rental is their primary residence and must properly register to advertise. If you rent out your entire home, you can do so for up to 180 nights per year. A spare bedroom in your home can be rented out as often as you like. If you think there is an illegal short-term rental near you, we’ll be glad to ask staff to check.

Fifth, following the success of last year’s alcohol in parks pilot, I am glad that the policy has been made permanent for select locations. Staff reported high public satisfaction and no evidence that the policy caused increased harm. Toronto city council has therefore decided that there must now be a park in every ward where people can share a bottle of wine or beer with friends. We know this is especially good news for the half of my constituents who have been denied this opportunity as they don’t have private yards. I would be happy to add more Ward 11 parks to the list, in addition to the current permissions for Queen’s Park and Christie Pits. Residents’ associations and local groups may propose additional parks so long as they have washrooms.

One of my motions last year has now brought parking fines up to date across the city, effective August 1. Most parking fines were adjusted upward to match inflation since the last time rates were set. Fines for a small number of offences (like blocking EV charging sites or bike lanes) were increased through a motion of mine.

The spring calendar has included several engaging events in and around the Annex. We had a hugely successful first Community Environment Day at Central Technical School in May with residents donating, recycling, and disposing of books, clothing, electronics, hazardous waste, etc. The second will take place at Fred Hamilton Park on Sunday, June 23. First comers are entitled to two bags of free compost for their household!

I was proud to join the mayor and community organizers at the opening of a permanent home for the Blackhurst Culture Centre on Bathurst Street which will serve as a revitalized community space and bookshop in the Annex. I also enjoyed joining friends at the Centre for Social Innovation to celebrate Tapestry Community Capital’s sixth anniversary and the impact of their community bonds.

April and May are the classic months for spring cleaning, and in that spirit, I want to extend a big thank you to every neighbourhood group who cleaned up their parks and ravines for Earth Day, especially to those who held events on Sunday so I could attend. I was touched to plant pansies and paint flowerpots with the preschoolers at U of T Family Services’ rooftop garden at Charles and Bay. Finally, it’s great to see people of all ages enjoying the new exercise equipment at Jean Sibelius Square.

Have a wonderful conclusion to the spring season.

Dianne Saxe is city councillor for Ward 11, University-Rosedale.


Tags: Annex · Opinion