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E-BLAST: Council Highlights: Housing, housing, housing

Housing continues to be the top story in the Council Chamber this month.

Rent increases, evictions, skyrocketing rents - people are feeling less secure than ever in their homes and record-high numbers are considering leaving Ontario. With the Province repealing rent control on new buildings and vacated units, it’s harder than ever to find an affordable place to live in our city.

Last week, City Council made significant moves to address this challenge in both existing and new rental buildings. Council voted to protect renters by developing a Renoviction By-law to stop evictions when a landlord illegitimately evicts a tenant by alleging that a unit must be vacated to undertake renovations or repairs. The policy is meant to compel landlords to sufficiently prove to the City that repairs require tenants to vacate. More work is being done on implementation guidelines and this policy will report one more time to Council in October to close this illegal eviction loophole.

Council also supported the new, ambitious Rental Housing Supply Program which will lead to a boom in the non-profit and co-operative housing sector. This program will help non-market housing providers build rent-geared-to-income, affordable, and market-rent units that have rent control, unlike any other new apartments in our city. There will also be vacancy control: a limit to how much rent can go up between vacating a unit and rental to new tenants.

This program immediately funds 6,000 new rental homes, including 2,600 new affordable units, that will start construction this year and next. Importantly, this program links the definition of “affordable” to people’s income, rather than market trends.

This is a major game changer for our city’s housing supply.

Examples of Modular Housing: Reiderman Residence (Vancouver)

As we all know, Toronto is grappling with a homelessness crisis. Our unhoused population, made up of singles and families in financial crisis, persons in various health and mental health crises, and a steady flow of unsponsored refugees, refugee claimants, and asylum seekers, are currently finding refuge in a range of settings, including the City’s permanent shelters, drop-in centres, emergency shelter hotels, and most frustratingly, in illegal encampments. This month, Council made significant progress in expanding our stock of base shelter and supportive housing beds to work toward addressing the crisis.

First up: Council adopted funding and a plan to develop 5 new shelter sites over the next 18 months. Staff now have the funds to develop some lots or to acquire sites with buildings that could be renovated. We know that if we are ever to empty out our temporary shelter hotels, we need a sufficient number of these new facilities. Each is being designed to provide much more appropriate shelter programming that is conducive to getting people back on their feet and able to be independently housed.

The new permanent shelter in Don Valley North, opened in 2022, is a good example of this new model. What is key is to develop multiple shelter spaces, each with fewer than 100 beds. When facilities are this small and manageable, the intensive case management necessary to get someone ready for their own home is much more likely to succeed.

At the same time, Council voted to proceed with phase two of our Modular Supportive Housing program. 175 Cummer Ave will soon become home to 60 people in need of support programs and finishing touches can proceed on Dundalk Drive where 60 residents began living in modular supportive housing last year.

These modular projects have been successful wherever they have been installed. At 60 independent units, these buildings knit very easily into any community and can be fully constructed in around 3 months. I asked the head of the City’s Housing Secretariat if more of these could be in the City’s future. We agreed it is worth looking at the field of suppliers, as modular construction techniques are a growing industry. There are more businesses every year that can help us make housing progress quickly.

During the City’s pandemic financial struggles, every division and City corporation was asked to contribute to our financial picture.

The Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) generates a significant amount of revenue for the City and over the last few years, was asked to return a greater share of their earnings to the City. While this was essential to addressing our pandemic and affordability challenges, it has put them behind on their capital repairs to their parking lots around the city and other services that allow us to continue to generate non-tax revenue. Now it is time to rebalance.

On the recommendation of our Chief Financial Officer, Council adopted a new revenue share agreement with the TPA that will see the Green P return 75% of their earnings to the City every year. Over the next three years that could amount to $95 million, a huge contribution to the City’s budget needs while still ensuring we are prudently preserving these assets for our community.

An image of the Ontario Science Centre which is now closed.

These last two items created quite the swirl of controversy in the week leading up to our June council session. Both were quite frustrating items from my perspective. I know there are those that don’t share my opinion on these matters but I remain committed to honestly discussing them.

Thank you to the residents who called my office about Sankofa Square and shared their opinions. The facts are such that my opinion has not changed and it would appear that neither have most of my colleagues.

I support the option to rename the Square (instead of the much more expensive plan from Mayor Tory to rename all of Dundas Street) with the name chosen by a community consultative group that included Black community leaders in Toronto and Indigenous partners – Sankofa. That this was put forward by these community leaders is meaningful to me and many of my colleagues.

We appreciated that they chose a sentiment rather than the name of a person because individuals' names have proven to be an endless source of debate. A fact that often gets lost in this discussion is that property tax dollars are not being used to effect the name change. I mention this because callers tend to lead with the issue of spending their tax dollars. Once informed of the fact, they reach for other reasons to be against the change. I have voted to finalize the change of the name, and I am proud to stand by it.

We talk a lot in this town about fighting anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and healing the wounds of First Nations people. Sankofa asks us to spare a moment to think of the slavery past of Black people; those whose ancestors were forcibly brought here. I have room in my heart for all of these things. Not just some of them.

When it comes to the Science Centre issue, I have room in my heart for every wonderful memory there from my parenting years. I’m grateful to the Province for all the years they have run this attraction. Unfortunately, there has been a severe lack of transparency and communication from the Provincial government regarding the future of the Science Centre, demonstrated by its sudden closure a couple of weeks ago.

Many in the community, the Mayor and many of my council colleagues included, want to explore options for the City to be part of solving the future of the Science Centre. With everyone wanting that so much, I voted to have staff report back after studying the possibilities. However, as a Budget Chief, I need to make it clear up front that I’m not prepared to support any proposed solutions that come back to us that drain City dollars.

The City is best at running more modest museums and attractions. The largest example under our management is the very popular Toronto Zoo. Each year it costs about $13 million of your tax dollars. I get very stressed when faced with the fact that the Science Centre costs the Province an annual net loss of $20 million and by the Provincial government’s claims that a capital investment of nearly $500 million is required to preserve the Science Centre at its current location. Given the City’s structural financial challenges and the many priorities City Council is currently trying to address, this renovation would need to be undertaken by the Provincial government alone.

What the City can do is take every action possible to help support the local economy in the neighbourhood, including those who may lose their jobs as a result of this closure. The forthcoming Action Plan for Toronto’s Economy needs to provide opportunities for people in the suburbs. As the Mayor’s Economic Development & Culture Champion, I am deeply committed to this work.

So here is my ultimate promise: I’m willing to be open minded about the possibilities report by City staff but I remain equally open to solutions that may come from the Provincial government. 

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to write to your Member of Provincial Parliament, Vincent Ke, to voice your views on the Province’s plan. He can be reached at or 416-494-8778.


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