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Make affordable housing mandatory

July 3rd, 2015 · 2 Comments

Inclusionary zoning is used in 300 U.S. cities

By Joe Cressy

What makes a great city? Arts and culture, diversity, economic growth, and civic engagement. All these things matter a great deal. But, if you ask me, the test of a truly great city is whether we adequately care for the residents who live here. Sadly, on this front, we are letting residents of Toronto down.

Our city has an affordable housing crisis; and, the longer we delay in confronting it, the worse off we will all be.

The City of Toronto currently has more than 91,000 families on our centralized affordable housing waiting list. It’s a number that is almost hard to comprehend. This number exists at the very same time that Toronto has more condo towers under construction than any other city in North America.

As we grow as a city, we need to ensure that we are building neighbourhoods, rather than simply adding density. While we work hard to ensure we have the physical and social infrastructure to support our neighbourhoods, we also need to ensure that we are building equitable communities.

The affordable housing crisis is not new — it has been years in the making. In the 1990s, the provincial government downloaded the responsibility of affordable housing onto municipalities, and created a funding gap that continues to grow. Meanwhile, successive federal governments have been missing in action. In fact, Canada remains the only G7 country without a national housing strategy.

We need our provincial and federal governments to come back to the table as partners to address the housing crisis facing our city. Close the Housing Gap, a campaign led by the city’s Affordable Housing Office in partnership with Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and countless other allies, seeks to build awareness of our city’s housing crisis and tell the other levels of government that the status quo is simply not an option.

With or without the partnership of our government counterparts, we must find ways to dramatically increase investments in affordable housing as our city sees more and more residential development. In Ward 20, we have more than 60 active development files and many more on the horizon. Our community is committed to building affordable housing, and our office requires an investment in affordability in every development in Ward 20. However, we need a legislative framework that mandates this investment in every development, city-wide.

Simply put, we can address the affordable housing crisis by simply mandating that every new residential development with over 20 units includes affordable units. It’s a practice known as inclusionary zoning and it is not new. In fact, inclusionary zoning is already used in more than 300 U.S. cities.

It’s a concept that seems almost too simple. Growth pays for equitable growth, and in the process we build mixed-income neighbourhoods. So, why haven’t we implemented this solution yet? The answer lies with the province. Inclusionary zoning requires provincial legislation, and the province of Ontario has not responded to the city’s repeated requests for this legislation.

With the addition of inclusionary zoning policies to our planning framework, our city could create a steady and growing supply of affordable rental and home ownership units across the city. We could ensure that our communities are built equitably, and that all residents have greater access to resources and services.

What makes a great city? I’d argue that inclusionary zoning and mandating equitable growth would be a good start.

Joe Cressy is the city councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina.

Tags: Annex · Liberty · News

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Darlene Stimeon // Jul 13, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    “Affordable” is very subjective. Witness the folks protesting the new homes that will “only” cost half a million! Please start talking about RGI housing (rent-geared-to-income) as that is a much more meaningful term!


  • 2 Dick Halverson // Jul 13, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    After 35 years of consulting on social housing I now believe that public policy change, not only government grants are necessary. Government programs are politically conceived and poorly targeted and implemented. It is time to abandon segregated social housing (buildings), in favour of people, having the opportunity to live integrated in any apartment, townhouse, or other relatively affordable home, funded by shelter allowances or purchase assistance. The buildings are not only unsustainable, they are contributors to generational poverty.
    Public policy, including carefully designed inclusionary zoning, tax reform incentives, land trusts, development charge exemptions, and much more are required.
    We need to get out of the response to building programs mode into focussing on the serving the long term equity building needs of those in poverty. Buildings are band aids and tools of social segregation (supportive housing excluded).