Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat brought forward a new plan Thursday for a rent-to-own housing program, a proposed solution to Toronto’s affordable housing crisis that she intends to pay for with a tax on luxury homes.
But incumbent Mayor John Tory, Ms. Keesmaat’s chief opponent, says that her “constantly combative relationship" with the provincial government makes it unlikely it will give her proposed tax its requisite sign-offs.
“I found some considerable irony in the fact that the person who says that we should be at a state of war with Queen’s Park … would be the same person who would want to go up there the next day and ask them to make a change in legislation," Mr. Tory told reporters after giving a speech Thursday at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
Ms. Keesmaat’s new plan is based on the 100,000 units of affordable housing she’s pledged to build in the next decade, which would be constructed with private or non-profit developers, and don’t cross over with the city’s community housing stock. Under the rent-to-own plan, individuals who submit successful applications would be able to pay monthly installments to either the city or partners, likely in the non-profit sector, as part of a rental agreement. Those monthly payments would go toward a down payment to eventually purchase the home for a set price.
Another mayoral candidate, Knia Singh, talked about developing a rent-to-own program within Toronto community housing during a recent debate.
Ms. Keesmaat’s program would be paid for with a 0.4-per-cent property surtax on luxury homes, priced at $4-million or more. She estimates that would apply to roughly 3,000 properties, bringing in around $80-million a year. So far this year, 1,576 homes have sold in the Greater Toronto area for more than $2-million, according to Toronto Real Estate Board data.
Answering questions from reporters in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood after announcing her plan, Ms. Keesmaat acknowledged the Ontario government would have to approve her surtax idea. But she said she was confident the Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford – despite its aggressive stand against new taxes, such as Ottawa’s carbon tax – would buy into hers.
“Well, the Premier says that he is ‘for the people,’ and this is about ordinary people having access to home ownership,” Ms. Keesmaat said.
The provincial Ministry of Finance declined to comment Thursday on "hypothetical situations or platforms which may be raised by candidates in election campaigns.”
Ms. Keesmaat has vocally opposed this provincial government throughout her campaign. “This isn’t a normal provincial government that we have today,” she told the audience at a debate in Scarborough last week. Of Mr. Tory, she said: “You can’t fight conservative policies with a conservative mayor.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Tory has championed his relationships with the provincial and federal governments throughout the campaign, saying in his Board of Trade speech that he can’t be “distracted” by one politician being better in any way than another. “The Prime Minister of Canada is who it is. The Premier of Ontario is who it is. We need their partnership.”
When asked whether he’d consider vying for a similar tax as the one proposed by Ms. Keesmaat, Mr. Tory held firm to previous pledges to keep property and commercial taxes at or below the rates of inflation. “I’ve made my position on taxes clear from the beginning,” he told reporters. He would, however, consider a “rent-to-own type idea.” So far in the election, Mr. Tory has pledged to build 40,000 units of affordable housing over the next 12 years, or around 3,500 a year.