Toronto has come forward with a blueprint for getting housing built that is short some specifics and will take years to implement, even as staff acknowledge the city faces a worsening affordability crisis.
Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, who is performing many of John Tory’s duties after he resigned as mayor last month, on Tuesday called the plan “a big step forward.” She urged council not to wait until after June’s mayoral by-election to pursue it.
“There has been extensive public consultation,” she told reporters, referring to the plan. “And that consultation continues.”
Toronto has seen housing costs spiral up much faster than incomes. On Tuesday, the site rentals.ca said that the average price to rent a one-bedroom home in the city had risen to $2,501, up 21.5 per cent in a year.
Mr. Tory campaigned last autumn on a variety of pledges to make housing more affordable, including ending zoning rules that protect single-family neighbourhoods from most forms of density. In December, his plan was approved in principle by council, which asked staff to come back in March with recommendations for its implementation.
The first part of that staff work appeared Tuesday, in a report laying out timelines for the approval and implementation of a number of housing initiatives. Among the changes to come are new zoning rules to make it easier to build mid-rise on larger streets and amended guidelines for melding those buildings with adjacent low-rise neighbourhoods.
However, the report did not include the level of detail promised in December, such as the specific number of housing units each action is expected to create. The report provided “high-level estimates” and a range of units that could be created, noting that the estimates would be updated as individual actions are approved and advanced.
The report also did not include recommendations toward the housing plan’s goal of loosening zoning to allow small apartment buildings across the city – likely its most contentious aspect other than legalizing rooming houses. And it did not include recommendations for how to achieve the province’s housing target of 285,000 new homes over the next decade.
Both of these sets of recommendations are expected to come in April.
The report makes reference to continuing discussions between the city and province over the cost effects of Bill 23. Last fall, Premier Doug Ford’s government passed the legislation, significantly cutting these fees for certain developments, including affordable housing and non-profit projects.
City of Toronto staff project the development charge changes would cost the city $1.2-billion over the next decade. Ms. McKelvie said she was scheduled to meet with Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy Tuesday afternoon ahead of next week’s provincial budget.
“They have made that commitment to keep us whole and we’re going to try to hold them to that as much as we can,” she said.
Toronto’s housing report paints a picture of a city with a dire and worsening housing affordability crisis, where even solidly-employed people cannot afford decent accommodation. It notes that there is also a related but separate affordability crisis among low-income people, which staff say will require government subsidy to address.
Staff pointed as well to the discrepancy between the number of housing units that are approved and the number that are built. From 2017 through 2021, the city approved an average of nearly 30,000 units annually. Over that same period, an average of about 16,000 units were built annually. At that rate, the city would fall far short of the province’s 10-year housing target of 285,000 homes.
Chief planner Gregg Lintern told reporters the city was trying to create the conditions to allow housing to be built, but he warned that there were many variables at play.
“It could be interest rates. It could be labour market. It could be supply chain, and we’ve seen all that through the last few years,” he said. “But we’re confident that we can at least enable the achievement of that target, likely even exceed it.”