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FORUM: Inclusionary zoning is the answer (Oct. 2020)

November 2nd, 2020 · No Comments

Growth in affordable housing is impossible without making it mandatory

By Mike Layton

The city’s need for affordable housing has never been more apparent than over the course of the pandemic. The public seems to have taken notice. My colleagues and I have been working on this issue and asking for additional and substantial investments in housing for more than a decade. We believe that housing is a human right and we need the funding and policies in place to treat it as such. 

Not a week goes by when we don’t hear about a major condo or luxury rental development displacing cultural institutions in our city such as Sneaky Dee’s concert venue and restaurant, for example. Our neighbourhoods are changing, and prices are going up. 

With the power that the current provincial government gives developers, the community benefits that can be achieved through private developments are extremely limited. Now is the moment to change that.

In mid-September, city staff released a report on Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) that could transform the state of affordable housing in Toronto. The proposed policies put forward a framework outlining how this tool – which would require that developers include a certain amount of affordable housing in new residential buildings – might be employed. 

Short of significant intergovernmental investment in affordable housing – the likes of which our city has not seen in decades – IZ is Toronto’s best chance to finally build the units desperately needed by our low- and moderate-income residents.

Implementing the strongest possible IZ framework is especially important now. 

As a city councillor, I am seeing countless first-hand examples of how the pandemic is threatening Torontonians’ housing stability. Many who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced have been unable to make rent, and the provincial government is now allowing landlords to evict them. 

Finding affordable alternatives will be next to impossible for most. I personally know families where four or more individuals have been forced to share a one bedroom apartment, and this type of situation – always unacceptable, but especially dangerous during a pandemic – will only become more common. 

There’s a lot that city staff have gotten right in this report. The affordability period for units created through IZ would be 99 years, which means this housing stock would be protected for future generations. IZ housing would also comprise a mix of sizes, ensuring that affordable family-sized units are built.

More good news is that the report’s definition of “affordable housing” would take into consideration tenants’ incomes, and not just average market rates. As of July, the average monthly rent for a 751 square foot Toronto condo (approximately the size of a 1-bedroom) was $2420. With the suggested IZ formula, a one-bedroom would cost $491 for a one-person household in the 30th percentile of incomes, and $806 for one in the 60th. 

But when it comes to the proposed set aside rate – how much of a building is required to be affordable – the report falls short. Toronto city staff are proposing that only 5-10% of a condo’s residential floor area be dedicated to affordable units, and 2.5-5% in purpose-built rental buildings. They are worried that higher rates will discourage development. But the reality is that Toronto could set much more ambitious IZ requirements, and developers would still be able to make their buildings – and their profit – happen. 

Additionally, city staff have suggested that developments be exempted from the policies if they have fewer than 100 units in some locations, and 140 in others. Last year, the Ford government hindered Toronto’s ability to employ IZ outside of Major Transit Areas. The city should be aiming to maximize IZ’s outcomes where it is permitted, rather than impeding them further. 

In the coming weeks, as Toronto starts consulting on these proposed policies, residents must let the city know it is imperative that we create as many units, in as many buildings as possible. Now is our moment to shift the power from developers to people, and to begin to turn the tide of the housing crisis.

Please let me know if you would like to become more involved in this process and I will be sure to share opportunities to make your voice heard, and make a difference.

Mike Layton is the councillor for Ward 11 University-Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion