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Council Highlights: Winter Parks Access, CaféTO, and Affordable Housing

I can’t believe that 2021 is almost over. While the year may be winding down, Council is just as busy as ever. We’ll have to meet tomorrow to finish our agenda, post Remembrance Day, but here’s a rundown of the most notable items from this session so far

 

Improving Winter Access to Toronto’s Parks for 2021-22 Last winter, it was great to see so many people enjoying our parks. As more people got out for winter walks, we heard loud and clear that we need more winter maintenance on our park trails and pathways. Council has asked staff to request this service improvement in their budgets in January and determine how to safely clear snow in environmentally significant areas.

 

Supporting Small Businesses by Extending CaféTO & Creating a Small Business Property Tax Subclass I don’t know about you, but I’ve loved the wonderful al fresco dining opportunities that came through the CaféTO program. Council has ordered a review of CaféTO with the goal of developing guidelines to make our street cafes permanent post-pandemic. I think it’s time for us to accept that we’re a large enough city to join other global cities in offering these patios. Look at the photographs below, which show outdoor dining in London, Paris, Washington DC, and Toronto. Try to guess which is which.

Council also voted to move forward with a 15% property tax reduction for small businesses. We know how hard they’ve been hit by this pandemic. This new small business property tax subclass will come into effect in 2022, and will support around 25,000 small businesses across our city.

 

Cultural Festivals Funding Program At long last, City staff have developed a transparent set of rules for how public dollars are distributed to non-profit groups that want to hold cultural festivals. This framework has set out three streams of funding depending on the size, sophistication, capacity, and community impact of the event. There are some very well established festivals in the city that receive funds, like Pride, Luminato, and Toronto Caribbean Carnival, but it has been challenging for small, emerging groups to access funding to host new festivals. This framework aims to change that and help emerging groups go on to raise funds on their own more easily.

 

Inclusionary Zoning: Official Plan Amendment and Implementation Guidelines Council voted to move forward in presenting our Inclusionary Zoning proposal to the Province for Ministerial Approval. I voted in favour of Councillor Layton’s amendment to set aside a larger number of affordable units in each development and phase in this policy more quickly, but it failed 18-8. Still, Council passing this policy should be viewed as good news. We went with the most conservative approach, which means the Province should turn a deaf ear to the development lobbyists who want to see it even more watered down and approve our policy to start supplying affordable units in all new development applications of 100 units or more.

 

Updating the Definitions of Affordable Rental and Ownership Housing City Planning staff want to crisp up the definition of affordable housing and put it right into our Official Plan. I welcome this, as much more affordable housing is set to be built in the coming years, both through inclusionary zoning and on a case-by-case basis. Over the past decade, whenever affordable units were approved here in Don Valley North, I’ve had to explain affordable housing at community meetings without solid policy language to back it up. Now, we have an official definition and income thresholds that better match the average incomes of qualified working people today. The table below shows the proposed eligible incomes and what rent they would be charged in the last column.

 

2022 Shelter Infrastructure Plan & Community Engagement Review Staff from Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) gave an update on the current state of shelter infrastructure across the city. They admitted there’s not a lot of certainty about the future. Staff have a framework to help those experiencing homelessness transition to permanent housing, but this depends largely on available funding for housing supply, support, and rent supplements. In order to meet pandemic distancing requirements and support those in crisis, SSHA continues to operate 48 emergency facilities. These are far from ideal to run a supportive program. Council has extended delegated authority to SSHA staff to help wind down these facilities and create smaller, safer, and more successful programs. While the full report is linked above, below is a slide show that gives a great summary of our current homelessness crisis and how it changed over the pandemic.

 

Contract for Waste Collection Services in Etobicoke Tomorrow, Council will consider awarding a contract worth $88 million to GFL for another seven years of curbside collection in Etobicoke and I think I know how the vote will go. I suspect Council will endorse the award, because many Councillors are not in the mood to make big changes while in the throes of pandemic recovery. However, thanks to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, that won’t be the end of the story.

When the contract award was considered at Committee, the members heard that the private sector savings of $411 million per year promised back in 2013 have evaporated. In fact, the cost of garbage pickup in the west is now slightly higher than east of Yonge St., where City workers still do collection. It gives me no pleasure to say I told you so. The Committee ordered a comparison study of all of our service districts for garbage collection and it will be back early in the new year. I’ll write a full column on it at that time. If my colleagues are smart, they’ll set politics aside and be honest about the real cost of privatizing our garbage collection.

 

Celebrating 100 Years of North York To end on a lighter note, my fellow North York Councillors moved a motion to have the City prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the Township of North York. I can’t wait to see the great celebration City staff will put together with local residents and community groups.

 

Oriole Community Centre: Vaccine & Flu Clinic COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots are now available at Oriole Community Centre (2975 Don Mills Road). The clinic is open on:

  • Wednesdays from 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM

  • Thursdays from 1:30 PM - 5:30 PM

No appointment is needed. COVID-19 first and second doses are available to anyone born in 2009 or earlier. Flu shots are available to anyone 6 months and older. This clinic is a collaboration between North York Toronto Health Partners, Working Women Community Centre, North York Harvest Food Bank, Toronto Public Health and Flemingdon Health Centre.

Vaccine Passports Proof of vaccination is now in effect for select non-essential settings in Ontario. If you need to print or download your proof of immunization, you can do so by visiting covid19.ontariohealth.ca or calling the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900. For more information on the vaccine passport, visit the link below:


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