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E-BLAST: Council Highlights: Affordable Housing, Community Safety & More

At City Council last week, we passed a number of important items aiming to tackle everything from affordable housing, to congestion, to transit, and much more. Below is a rundown on some of the biggest items we considered and how they'll impact our city and our neighbourhoods here in Don Valley North.

Council has adopted a new strategy to get a range of affordable housing built. In all honesty, it isn't really new at all. Decades ago, when our population was experiencing an extended post-war population boom, all levels of government were in the housing business. The Federal government was both funding and building housing, while Provincial governments created housing ministries and built housing on all sorts of business models, including social housing. It all worked perfectly well, until the governments that have access to income and sales tax decided to stop building housing and to stop funding the operation and repair of it.

Since then, cities and provinces have tried to attract the private sector to build different types of affordable housing using a variety of incentives, from access to prime public land to special allowances to create density. Obviously, this has failed to keep up with demand. Any economic irregularity, like a pandemic or financial crisis, can cause the private sector to slow down or stop building. Each time this happens, Toronto falls further behind, as do most major Canadian cities.

So where do we go from here? In a nutshell, Mayor Chow's strategy is to return to the days of the government acting as a public builder, but with one key difference: We would not only build social housing, but also housing that includes a number of market-value units so that there are ongoing profits to invest in maintenance and to fund the creation of more housing. Council has asked for a report back on five potential sites early in the New Year, but this plan is currently unfunded. We need investment from both the Provincial and Federal governments to create much-needed housing and provide construction jobs in a sector currently experiencing a slowdown.

A true new development on the housing front: Council has directed Planning Staff to explore the potential to convert empty office buildings into housing. This type of evaluation is happening in every major city's downtown core post-pandemic. The leader of the pack on this front is Calgary, a city that had a serious office vacancy problem well before the pandemic. But even in Calgary, where they passed broad permissive regulation changes 18 months ago, very few conversions are underway. 

The challenge we face is that office buildings tend to have what we call "deep floor plates". Where residential homes must include windows in every distinct room but the bathroom, office buildings have tons of space at the interior of the building. Staff will report back in the New Year on how feasible large-scale office conversions would be here in Toronto.

I've written many times about the Toronto Community Crisis Service (TCCS), a pilot project to develop a non-police response to persons experiencing mental health crises. In the summer of 2020, after the death of Regis Korchinski-Pacquet and the murder of George Floyd, I was militant about the need to create a successful model for community response to mental health crisis calls.

Our Executive Director of Social Development, Denise Campbell, approached this assignment with rigour. She took every step necessary to ensure that this program would be successful, and the stats show that her efforts paid off: 78% of calls to the service were handled with no police involvement. We are now ready to scale up the program, which will be offered city-wide by July 2024. If someone you know or love is experiencing a mental health crisis, you should still call 911. A specialist will determine whether a uniformed officer should respond or if another option would be better suited to de-escalate and help them access the right supports.

This item saw Council adopt financial recommendations and the design of the Waterfront East LRT. The design is about 60% complete, which is pretty much the point at which we can't make any further changes or tweaks. Some folks see transit as a zero-sum game, and wonder why we move forward with one project over another. This item includes an excellent and multi-faceted business case that shows why this long-overdue project needs the support of our city and the other orders of government. The potential waiting to be unlocked along this route truly is unmatched. 

The next time you take the DVP right down to the Gardiner, try to sneak a peek at the work going on along the East Waterfront. Once the renaturalization of the mouth of the Don River is done, there will be huge opportunities for housing and community building in the area.

How many of us have dropped by a little pop-up farmers market in the last couple of summers? Maybe you have a family tradition of heading down to St. Lawrence Market once in a while. That's a little bigger, but still a public market. 

Public markets have sort of grown organically (pardon the pun) throughout the city over the years. The question is, have they been able to realize their full potential? Do they cover the map of the city, or do we need to encourage a few more to fill in some gaps?

Earlier this month, the Economic & Community Development committee received a presentation from Marina Queirolo, the founder and steward of MarketCityTO, on Strengthening Toronto's Public Markets. Marina made a very good case for the abundant potential for public markets across the city, and Council has directed staff to draft a strategy to provide fair access to markets and the food security they provide across all wards.

This item include a myriad of Vision Zero road safety updates, including expanded criteria for Community Safety Zones, requests to the Province to take greater action on impaired driving, and more. 

One of the most notable changes to come out of this item is the new process to implement traffic calming measures on a street. Previously, many traffic calming measures required polling on the affected streets, a process that is very time-consuming and can delay the installation of much-needed road safety measures. Now, if a street meets the criteria set out by City staff, our road safety experts, they can be approved at Community Council and installed much more quickly. I know many Don Valley Northerners know how big a change these measures can make for road safety on our streets, and trust that this new process will help the City act more quickly to protect all road users.

As always, if you have thoughts or questions about any of the items here, don't hesitate to reply to my E-Blast or contact my office at



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