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E-BLAST: Council Highlights: Noise Bylaw Review, Foreign Buyers Tax & More

In the midst of all the craziness that is Budget season, we do have a regular business session of City Council. It always feels like the calm before the storm. We'll have our special Council meeting to finalize the Budget on Valentine's Day next week. For now, let's take a look at the important matters we tackled at Council this week.

As part of the updated Long-Term Financial Plan adopted last summer, City Council directed staff to report back with a new land transfer tax on foreign buyers of residential property in Toronto. This report recommends one, and dubs it the "Municipal Non-Resident Speculation Tax". You can call it a foreign buyers tax for short, and it will be applicable on certain residential properties effective January 1, 2025. The primary objective of this tax is to increase the availability of housing and keep it more affordable by discouraging international buyers, particularly those who do not intend to live on the property. The Province of Ontario currently levies its own Non-Resident Speculation Tax, which is 25% of the purchase price of residential property located anywhere in Ontario. City staff are recommending adding a municipal foreign buyers levy of 10% on the purchase price for residential properties in Toronto. When coupled with other land transfer tax impacts, this rate is expected to deter the kind of international real estate speculation that jacks up housing prices in our city. By mirroring Provincial rules, we are also able to piggyback on their collection method, making this a very efficient tax to implement.

In addition to my role as Budget Chief, I'm serving as the Mayor's Economic Development & Culture Champion. Delving into the world of economic development has been quite a journey for me, dating all the way back to 2007 when I joined what was then called "The Mayor's Economic Competitiveness Committee".

That group was established to deal with our neglected downtown core. An incentive was established to attract new office development to the core, called "The Imagination, Manufacturing, Innovation, and Technology Property Tax Incentive Program" (IMIT). It worked very well, using property tax reductions to attract investment and then phasing the rates back to normal. IMIT has generated enough new investment to net us almost $120 million in additional tax revenue each year, once the IMIT reductions have been phased out.Council has asked staff to report back with an updated incentive program that will cost fewer dollars upfront and respond to the new post-pandemic reality we're facing. We need to find new ways to incentivize occupancy of vacant office space as opposed to building new offices. I'll be working closely with staff on this so that it can be a feature of Toronto's updated Economic Action Plan that will be launched later this year.

Back in November, City Council approved a "Homelessness Services Capital Infrastructure Strategy" that lays out a long-term, proactive approach for Toronto Shelter and Support Services.  We need to improve the stability of the shelter system we are responsible for and, in partnership with the other orders of government, address the unprecedented demand for shelter beds we're currently facing. This strategy focuses on developing purpose-built shelters and gradually transitioning out of COVID-19 shelter hotels. We know that smaller shelters are better. Using hotels with far too many separate rooms to supervise and support cannot be a permanent state. The strategy directs staff to find 16 potential permanent sites over the next ten years that would accommodate an average of 80 residents per site. This strategy will take high priority in the City’s overall Capital Plan, as vacating the temporary shelter hotels is the goal for all of us. The hotel facilities are far more expensive to run than serving the same clients in purpose-built, right-sized facilities.

Here's something we all know: A fast-paced and growing city of 3 million people is a noisy place to live. While we can't eliminate all noise, there need to be limits. Moreover, those limits have to be revisited from time to time as new noise challenges arise.

The device used to measure decibel levels.

In this report, staff have recommended a number of wording changes and other measures that tighten up the City's ability to enforce the noise bylaw and prosecute where necessary. These amendments are based on staff experiences as well as community input. A special shout out to the many community leaders who advocated on this issue, including No More Noise TO and Gasbusters. I’m looking forward to continuing our dialogue to make sure these new measures are properly enforced. There was also a big discussion at Council on vehicle noise. It seems Don Valley Northerners are not the only ones suffering from speed-racing racket at night. This is a difficult one to tackle, as bylaw officers have limited authority over moving vehicles. However, staff have agreed to report back on this matter in isolation at an upcoming Economic & Community Development Committee meeting. We'll also be hearing back from staff on noise from power devices at Infrastructure & Environment Committee later this year.

Toronto already has an administrative penalty system (APS) for parking violations that has been in place for some time. This stops the lower courts from being clogged up with people trying to challenge their parking tickets. Instead, people can fill out an online form to dispute a ticket and no courtroom is necessary. 

Now that we increasingly rely on automated cameras to enforce moving violations, such as running a red light or speeding, we're finding that fewer people are disputing tickets. It's hard to argue when you get a photograph of your own car committing the act. This means an APS with an online tribunal can probably replace yet another court lineup, both allowing for more efficient use of limited Provincial court time and reducing the number of police officers who need to use valuable hours to appear in court.

I often get calls asking for new automated cameras to be installed in certain parts of our neighbourhood. The APS will allow us to save money that can then be invested into more cameras and the staff needed to review the footage. There are a few more cameras being installed around the city this year, and still more will hit the road in 2025. This moves us closer to our Vision Zero goals and saves our police the time needed to enforce unsafe driving—a real win-win.

It was another productive Council session, and now I'm right back into the final week of Budget season. As I mentioned at the top of the column, the Budget will be finalized at Council next week. As always, I'll give a full rundown in this E-Blast. Stay tuned.



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