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We need a bolder approach to building affordable housing


I’m holding a virtual community meeting TONIGHT at 7PM to discuss supports for tenants during COVID-19. Register HERE by 6PM to participate.

Back in 2001, my husband and I bought our first and only house. It was the last affordable fixer-upper in Don Valley East, the ward I represented as a school board trustee. We fixed our little bungalow up enough to make it livable and thanked our lucky stars because, a year later, values had doubled. If we had hesitated a year we could never have owned a single-family home.

Twenty years on, our house is worth easily five times more, even in a pandemic market, and there is not one tiny high-rise condominium in this town for the amount we paid for our house.

In 2001, the year we stepped on to the property ladder, Canada’s median after-tax income was $45,800. Today, it's $67,400, while home values have risen almost 400 per cent.

The property ladder is now hovering 100 metres off the ground where no one can reach it without generational wealth. But the biggest crisis in housing is playing out in real time in the rental market.

Rent crisis

As the pandemic stretches on, the rental accommodation crisis has been exacerbated. For months, our public health officials at every level of government have directed us to "stay home" as much as possible. But many Torontonians are learning they can't afford to.

My husband and I spent 13 per cent of our wages on rent in 1981, when we were just starting out. If the people just starting out now are lucky enough to find a job that pays $50,000 after graduation, they will likely pay 45 per cent of that salary on rent alone.

For younger adults today, all of this math plus one global pandemic equals mass job loss, evictions and changes to future plans that will affect their lives and the economy for years to come.

To those of you reading this from inside your owned home: the renters' struggle affects you, too. If no one in the next generation is able to save enough to buy a home, the seller’s market we have enjoyed will evaporate.

What's the solution?

There are a range of solutions furiously being worked on to address all this doom and gloom. You will see Council and Mayor Tory discussing them next week in Executive Committee, but there is more than just talk going on: work on two affordable housing projects on surplus City properties and many more are in the pipeline.

However, every day another one of our neighbours in Don Valley North visits the Willowdale Legal Clinic to get help because they've been served an eviction notice. Even if we build all 3000 units of affordable housing proposed in the Mayor’s Housing Now program, we need to provide more. We need to be far more imaginative and downright aggressive about opportunities.

A city that can’t accommodate average, working people just doesn't work. Why would an early childhood educator take a job in a Toronto childcare facility that only pays $35,000 if she has to spend more than $20 a day commuting from the most affordable rent situation she can find?

Wherever possible, we try to include affordable units in new developments. This can help in the short term, but the City must start maximizing its publicly-owned real estate — and that goes for every level of government.

A bolder approach

As I drive along the Eglinton Crosstown construction route, I see smart-looking glass cubes. These future transit stations sit on public land but no attempt has been made to maximize the space above and around them. Shouldn’t we be building housing opportunities above every new transit station?

When building housing on public land, why must we always work with private sector, profit-motivated developers? This method only gets us a few hundred affordable units with hundreds more at market value. Why not follow the lead of other nations and foster not-for-profit housing development organizations that are mandated to invest in building and managing 100 per cent affordable projects?

Over the years, I’ve tried to work affordable units into projects, always helped by great North York City Planners negotiating the details with developers. The net housing gain comes in the dozens when we need thousands of units. The provincial government could do a lot for us if they restored the former government’s mandatory inclusionary zoning bill and improved on it. It could have meant that, on dense development applications on sites such as Bayview Village Mall, developers could have been required to make 20 per cent of their units affordable for a minimum of 25 years.

The result We all win when construction of affordable housing generates well-paid jobs and the resulting homes help people stay in our cities. That's what a healthy city should look like. So, let the pandemic inspire us to be bolder. As I've said before, the global impact of the pandemic has made it clear we will not return to "normal." It's revealed the weaknesses in our systems, including long-term care, transportation, education, small business and more. Sweeping changes are needed to make those systems more resilient — let's make sure housing is on that list, too.

12-24 Leith Hill Road The owner of 12-24 Leith Hill Rd has submitted a Site Plan Control application. The application proposes an 11-storey residential building and 48 townhouse units. The existing apartment building would remain. City staff will review this application and issue all the conditions the applicant must fulfill before the application is approved.

25 Leith Hill Road The owner of 25 Leith Hill Rd has submitted an Official Plan Amendment / Rezoning application. The application proposes a 31-storey residential apartment building containing 294 dwelling units. The existing apartment building would remain. A preliminary report on the application will be submitted to North York Community Council in the near future.

630 Finch Avenue East The owner of 630 Finch Ave E has submitted a Rezoning application. The application proposes a 12-storey mixed-use building that would contain 206 dwelling units and 897 square metres of non-residential gross floor area. There would be 311 parking spaces in a three-level parking structure located behind the non-residential space. A preliminary report on the application will be submitted to North York Community Council in the near future.

Join our virtual community meeting on development next Thursday! If you read the updates above and wondered, what is a Site Plan Control application? An Official Plan Amendment? How does a developer apply to build a new building anyway? Don’t sweat it! We are hosting a virtual community meeting to talk about how the planning and development process works, and how you as residents of DVN can stay informed and engaged. Join Shelley and City Planning staff next Thursday, September 24, at 7 pm on WebEx or by phone to learn more. Register here.


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