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E-BLAST: Creating & Protecting Housing in Toronto

Housing has been a hot topic these past few weeks, though most of the attention here in Toronto has been focused on the Vacant Home Tax. Rest assured, I have a thorough update on that below today’s column. Today, I want to dive into some of the other policy tools we’re using here at the City to combat our housing crisis, and touch on some decisions being made at the Provincial and Federal levels that will impact housing in Toronto.


First off, the Prime Minister is offering additional incentives to municipalities that pass bylaws allowing fourplexes on lots currently zoned as single-family. Toronto already has a bylaw allowing low-rise, multi-residential buildings across the city—called Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods, or EHON—and because of that we’ll receive additional funds from the Federal government for housing infrastructure.

Despite our bylaw coming into effect last year, these types of homes have been slow to appear on the market. The Toronto Star recently showed a perfect example of how these buildings can seamlessly integrate into neighbourhoods:

A fourplex recently constructed in East York.

I don’t know about you, but to me that home looks like an average flat-top reno you could find anywhere in Don Valley North. Instead of being a “monster home” only housing one family, this property contains four separate units—everything from a one-bedroom basement apartment to a three-bedroom garden suite at the back of the property. It’s early days, but it will be interesting to watch what happens if the owner is able to sell all four of these units quickly. I imagine that would generate market interest to create more fourplexes like this.

I wanted to highlight this project featured in the Star because it shows that we can meet the demand for a range of housing without necessarily having to change the visual nature of a neighbourhood. Anyone wanting to build a fourplex still needs to go through our approvals process. I do hope we see these housing options start to take hold, as they have the potential to fill the “missing middle” and provide more choices for seniors looking to age in place, young families getting their start in Toronto, and many others who are struggling to find housing to meet their needs in our city.

Short-Term Rentals

At Planning & Housing Committee last week, staff brought forward a proposal designed to close some of the loopholes in our short-term rental bylaw, which regulates the operations of companies like Airbnb here in Toronto. Their proposal will also raise the licensing fees so we can hire more enforcement officers on a cost-recovery basis to take appropriate action when operators don’t comply.

We brought in the short-term rental bylaw for two reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to get units of housing back on the market. Too many condos and homes were being bought up to list on Airbnb. In a housing crisis, we need all of those units available for the people who are looking to build a life in our city, not those who are just stopping by. Secondly, this bylaw helps us deal with some of the problems short-term rentals were creating in our neighbourhoods. I know quite a few Don Valley Northerners who had to deal with noise from “party houses” or parking issues as cars with out-of-town plates clogged up the street.

The short-term rental bylaw has significantly improved our situation in its first few years. A short-term rental can, by definition, only be rented for 28 consecutive days. We have another provision that an STR can only be rented for 180 days per year. There are currently about 8100 listings in total, all of which should be people renting out part of their principal residence, not entire homes. On a given day, only about 3800 of those listings are active. Not only have we gotten much-needed housing back on the market, but we have also noticed a significant decline in short-term rental complaints and problems in our neighbourhoods.

One example of a permitted short-term rental setup in a home. Click the image to look at other permitted setups.

Staff are recommending a few changes to our short-term rental bylaw, particularly to combat multiple bedrooms being rented out simultaneously in a single home (known as “partial-unit rentals”). These types of listings now make up a third of all short-term rental listings, and are not subject to the same 180-day maximum rule that applies when an operator lists a “whole unit”. Staff recommended closing this loophole, and I intend to support their recommendation when this item is considered at Council next week.


Another item that came to Planning & Housing Committee last week had to do with RentSafeTO, our program to enforce property standards in existing purpose-built rental buildings across the city. Privately-owned apartments built during the 60’s boom represent one of the only affordable housing options for many Torontonians. These buildings were built to last, but they must be maintained in liveable conditions.

Our bylaw officers follow up on complaints, levy work orders and fines, and do full building audits on problem properties. Apartment building owners will pay an increased fee to ensure this program is properly funded and bylaw officers can continue this important work of keeping housing liveable for renters.

Here is the progress report in a nutshell:

Staff are recommending several improvements to the program to better serve renters, including an expanded building evaluation tool that will now include in-suite investigations and a new threshold for building audits that will hold building operators accountable. Staff will continue to monitor the implementation of these program changes, and I will be following closely to make sure that our apartment buildings are maintained in good condition. We must prevent the deterioration of this critical housing stock and make sure tenants are living in safe conditions.

The “Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes” Act

At the Provincial level, the biggest news this week came when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing introduced the “Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes” Act. This can only be described as an omnibus basket of changes. While we’re still sifting through the bill to figure out all the impacts for Toronto, there are some notable proposals.

The bill suggests removing planning and density restrictions around post-secondary campuses, which is a challenge as suburban campuses expand. We want to see more student residences on campus but need thoughtful design to best integrate them into our neighbourhoods.

The bill would also reverse some earlier Provincial action that reduced development charges collected by the City. This is great news, but we’re still analyzing the language to see if this change would bring us back to the amount we need to properly service new neighbourhoods.

Finally, the Province is suggesting putting an expiry date on development approvals, as we’re seeing an increasing number of applicants sit on approvals for years without getting shovels in the ground. If an approval expires, the applicant would have to submit a brand new application that would be considered based on updated circumstances in the neighbourhood. I believe that’s a very good thing for Don Valley North and all of Toronto, as it will both incentivize developers to start building much-needed housing and ensure that new developments are built with an accurate understanding of the neighbourhood as it stands.

I know there was a lot to digest here. I’ll be sharing updates on some of these pieces when they come to City Council next week. The crux of it is, we need to incentivize housing starts of all types. Our children’s future and the future of our city depends on it.


Update on Vacant Home Tax Notices

An update for those of you who received a Vacant Home Tax bill last week:

As Budget Chief, I have been working closely with Mayor Olivia Chow to ensure that no one who has received a bill in error will have to pay. We will also be bringing a motion to City Council next week to have the late declaration fee waived for everyone—no one will have to pay the $21.24 fine that was mentioned in the billing letters. We will also direct staff to refund any late fees already collected.

Aside from making sure you do not have to pay any fees as a result of this year's challenges, we're taking steps to ensure this is a much-improved process next year.

I'll be sure to share an update in next week's column. In the meantime, if you have received a Vacant Home Tax bill and your home is not vacant, you need to submit a Notice of Complaint to the City. You can do so online at the link below:

If you need assistance filing your Notice of Complaint, you are welcome to contact my office.



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