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E-BLAST: What’s Happening with the Housing Action Plan?

On Monday night, I attended the second of two community open houses about the redevelopment of Fairview Mall. Dozens of residents came out to share their thoughts and ask their questions. Whenever we get the community together on a development application like this, I hear two seemingly opposing major concerns: 1) that we don't have enough housing in the city, and 2) that we're building too many high-rises. While these seem to be in opposition, the actual solution to our housing crisis acknowledges both of these concerns: Building "missing middle" housing in every corner of Toronto is essential to creating a city that is truly liveable for both current and future generations.

A picture of me with neighbours at one of the two Fairview Mall Redevelopment community open houses that took place this month. Fundamentally, we need to shift away from our current model that seems to only build tall towers and single-family homes. We need to increase options for gentle density in our neighbourhoods, including duplexes, triplexes, low-rise apartments, garden suites, and more. These efforts are encapsulated in our Housing Action Plan 2022-2026. It is a massive document that highlights the progress we've made tackling the housing crisis and the steps we're taking to build a wider range of housing across the city. It also outlines the changes made in response to several new Provincial rules around our planning processes and zoning permissions. Today, I've pulled out the pieces that are the most timely and relevant to our neighbourhoods here in Don Valley North. TEMPERATURE CHECK: OUR HOUSING CHALLENGES First off, I know that our city seems busy enough and it can be hard to imagine it getting even busier. The reality is that our city keeps growing and ignoring that reality would be dangerous, not just to our own futures but our kids' and grandkids' futures as well. We are in a housing crisis, and it will only get worse if we don't take bold action to tackle it now. Since Council adopted the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, some progress has been made on the creation of affordable housing, specifically:

  1. Approving over 20,000 affordable rental homes for City financial incentives

  2. Securing over 3,600 affordable and supportive housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness

  3. Launching the Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition (MURA) program to support the purchase, renovation, and operation of about 140 homes that will remain permanently affordable

Despite these successes and a general increase in housing supply across the city, challenges remain with the availability and affordability of housing in Toronto. Between 2017 and 2022, we needed to build 300,000 new homes to avert a housing crisis. Only a third of that number materialized.

This is why we need a comprehensive plan to tackle our housing crisis. Sticking to the status quo won't get us the results we need fast enough. Our new Housing Action Plan attempts to marry Provincial intentions with the City's vision that we create a range of housing and affordability types to accommodate growth in the most liveable way. THE HOUSING ACTION PLAN 2022-2026 The new Housing Action Plan will be advanced across City divisions and includes five streams:

  1. Official Plan, Zoning and Guideline Amendments

  2. Advancing Housing System Policy and Program Initiatives

  3. Leveraging Public Land to Increase the Supply of Housing

  4. Preserving the Existing Rental Housing Stock

  5. Public Accountability and Reporting on Progress

The first item on that list is the most impactful, in my opinion. Currently, over 35% of Toronto's land area permits the construction of large homes, but they're limited to one or two units. These are the "monster homes" or "McMansions" we often see crop up in the neighbourhood. What if instead of one giant home for one family, there were options to build a similar sized building that housed up to four households?

The Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) Study has been exploring just that. City staff have been researching and consulting on opportunities to double or quadruple housing permissions in these areas by permitting residential buildings containing up to four units across Toronto's largely single-family neighbourhoods. This could include duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes but would still have to follow a process, including for building permits and technical plans. Staff will soon report back to our Planning & Housing Committee with the results of this study and final recommendations for implementation.

Staff are also exploring opportunities to increase housing options by allowing 4- to 6-storey walk-up apartment buildings to be constructed along major streets as part of the Major Streets Study. Here in Don Valley North, many of our major streets have already been intensified, like Sheppard Avenue, Don Mills Road, and Leslie Street. Other roads, like Victoria Park Avenue and Bayview Avenue, still have fronting single-family lots. These spaces could provide opportunities for the creation of new low-rise buildings on transit routes that bring gentler density to our neighbourhoods.

A rendering of one type of low-rise housing options that could soon become more widely permissible through the Housing Action Plan. These are the types of changes that are needed to meet our housing demand while keeping our neighbourhoods liveable. The inclusion of "missing middle" buildings like townhomes, low-rise apartments, triplexes and more will allow us to accommodate more people in our neighbourhoods in a sustainable way. The City also needs to continue to deliver and ramp up our innovative affordable housing programs to meet our housing goals. Some of our current programs include:

  1. The Housing Now Initiative, which has identified 21 City-owned sites (including one right by Leslie Subway Station) that could deliver 14,000-15,000 homes in new mixed-used, mixed-income, and transit-oriented communities.

  2. The Open Door Affordable Rental Housing Program, which has committed funds to support the delivery of over 20,000 affordable rental homes through grant funding and financial incentives.

  3. The Home Ownership Assistance Program, which has helped over 1,200 low- and moderate-income families secure affordable home ownership.

These programs are essential to achieving our affordable housing targets, particularly in the rental market, but they are becoming increasingly difficult to deliver in the face of Provincial and Federal changes to housing programs. Without committed financial support from other levels of government, we may be forced to scale back these ambitious programs to fit our new reality.

Our Chief Planner perfectly encapsulated the challenges we're facing in his closing remarks in the Housing Action Plan:

"While the City of Toronto is committed to continuing to take action (within its jurisdiction) and has already made significant financial investments toward increasing housing supply, participation from the federal and provincial governments is critical to deliver the 'right' supply needed. Most urgently, the City needs reimbursement of the $120 million per year in lost revenues from the changes incorporated in the Provincial Bill 23 changes to development charges and elimination of Section 37. Without these funds and other improvements to the Provincial Planning legislation, the City of Toronto will be unable to provide the services essential to support growth, unable to continue operating existing housing programs necessary to scale up supply, and unable to deliver complete communities that include both housing and the necessary supporting infrastructure."

We know that it's not enough to just build more housing—we also need to build complete communities: community centres, parks, child care, libraries, schools, hospital capacity, transit, and hard infrastructure. We're setting out a new vision for what our neighbourhoods can look like, a vision that both accommodates growth and keeps our neighbourhoods liveable, but we can't achieve it on our own. City Council, and any future mayor, will need to keep working hard to lobby our Provincial and Federal governments to make this vision a reality. The success of Toronto is essential to the success of our province and nation, and it's high time we got the support we need to ensure that Toronto is once again a place that folks from all walks of life can comfortably call home.


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