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FORUM: Exclusionary planning must stop (May 2021)

June 15th, 2021 · No Comments

The lack of affordable housing is the other crisis of our time

By Mike Layton

When asked to name the single biggest issue that is facing Torontonians, the most common answer is how hard it is to find affordable housing. 

Not a week goes by when we don’t hear about a major condo or luxury rental development changing the face of our neighbourhoods, and generally driving up prices. 

With the power that the current provincial government gives to developers, our ability to require that new developments include community benefits, such as affordable housing, is extremely limited. But now is the moment to change that. 

In September 2021, a final report on inclusionary zoning (IZ) will be coming to the Planning and Housing Committee, and then to city council, where members have the chance to vote and implement its recommendations. This was the follow-up to the interim report on IZ that was released back in the fall of 2020.

If Toronto had strong inclusionary zoning a decade ago, we could have added over 30,000 new units of affordable housing. This is eight times the amount of affordable units that were created in the same number of years.

Our current pattern of development is highly exclusionary. We’re seeing the majority of newly built housing being bought by investors and rented out at extremely unaffordable rates. 

At the Planning and Housing Committee in 2020, members accepted my motion calling on City Planning to explore whether it would be possible to significantly increase the amount of affordable housing that would be required of new developments, with options that would achieve a range of 10-30% of new condominium developments’ floor area and 5-20% of new purpose-built rental developments’ floor area. 

I would like to see these higher numbers achieved.

The interim report from 2020 proposed anywhere between 3%-5% of new rental of IZ developments and 5%-10% of new condo developments to be set aside as affordable, depending on the areas of the city where IZ is required. 

I, alongside numerous housing advocates, have made it clear that we need to do better to help address our housing crisis and have called for at least 20% to 30% affordable housing in new developments.

I have been fighting for this change since 2015, and I believe that we are at a critical moment.

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 this year is especially important now, as 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 continually allowing landlords to evict them. 

Without significant government intervention, finding affordable alternatives will become next to impossible for most. 

I personally know families where four or more individuals have been forced to share a one-bedroom apartment; this type of situation will only become more common, which is especially dangerous during a pandemic.

There is a lot that city staff have gotten right so far. 

The affordability period for units created through IZ is now proposed to 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.

We need to make sure we follow the lead of cities like Montreal and New York, which have both set ambitious requirements for the percentage of units in each building. 

City studies have demonstrated that developers would still be able to make their buildings – and their profits – with set asides as high as 20-30% in many areas of the city. This is why I will continue to push for the highest targets possible. 

In the coming months, residents must let the city know it’s imperative that we take this moment to shift the power from developers to people, so we can begin to turn the tide of the housing crisis. 

Let me know if you would like to join me in pushing for IZ to become a permanent part of Toronto’s housing landscape.

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office with your questions or concerns at Councillor_Layton@toronto.ca.

Mike Layton is the city councillor for Ward 11, University—Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion