Toronto has unveiled a sweeping housing plan it says will help nearly 350,000 households over the next decade, but needs $15-billion from other governments to make it happen.
Mayor John Tory and Councillor Ana Bailao, one of the city’s deputy mayors, announced the plan Tuesday morning. It covers a wide range of efforts, from rental support to affordable accommodation for women-led households, but in some cases combines or extends previous commitments.
“We’re going to have to go in different directions, time is of the essence,” Ms. Bailao said. “We have 10 years, so … we have to start to think about other initiatives.”
Housing affordability has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in Toronto, where the population is expected to grow by nearly one million people in the next two decades.
Escalating real estate costs have made it difficult for many people to enter the market, and a very low vacancy rate for rental properties has put pressure on rents, a key concern in a city where renting is increasingly prevalent. According to chief planner Gregg Lintern, the most recent census showed nearly half of Toronto’s households live in apartments in buildings of at least five storeys.
Central to Tuesday’s plan, which must be approved by council, was a promise to authorize 40,000 units of affordable rental housing over the next decade. This conflates several pre-existing commitments, but reduces their overall scope.
Mr. Tory ran for re-election last year on a pledge to build 40,000 affordable units, a goal subsequently supported by council. Council has also, separately, approved a goal of 18,000 supportive units, for people who need some level of care or assistance.
The two separate goals have now been rolled into a combined target of 40,000 units – several thousand of which have already been approved – that would have to be half-funded by other governments.
The mayor acknowledged that the combined total was a reduction, but said the plan was realistic and achievable.
The plan also includes promises to improve housing conditions for about 75,000 rental units through the refurbishment of older apartment towers. It aims to prevent 10,000 evictions of low-income households by offering interest-free loans. And it establishes a target of having one-quarter of new affordable and supportive housing be allocated to women and girls, including women-led households.
Some of this has been announced before and parts of the plan are a re-packaging and extending of existing goals.
For example, the plan would extend a rebate of the land transfer tax for first-time buyers, which the city says will help 150,000 people over a decade. This rebate, which was increased last year by the city to cover a property value of up to $400,000, has sparked criticism that instead of helping affordability it boosts real estate prices.
The total cost of Tuesday’s plan is pegged at $23.4-billion, with the city putting its share at $8.5-billion. Of the city’s portion, some $5.5-billion has been committed, leaving a $3-billion gap. Contributions from the provincial and federal governments – which total $14.9-billion – have not been secured.
“The city of Toronto, under existing arrangements with respect to how we’re able to tax and invest, is simply not able to deal with these challenges on its own,” Mr. Tory said.
“This plan is very much going to be dependent upon us putting our share of cash and land and the other governments doing the same thing. And as I said, I’m going to be an unrelenting advocate when it comes to the necessity of those governments stepping forward.”
Others on council were more skeptical of this approach.
“What are we actually going to do to help solve this problem, beyond asking other levels of government for support,” Councillor Mike Layton said. “Why not be a bit bolder in the investment that we’re making? We’re in a budget period right now. It’s going to be a tough budget, but they’re all tough.”
The mayor defended Tuesday’s plan as a crucial step with manageable targets that can be revised over the coming years.
“Of course, we could always do more … but I guess what I’m really interested in is making sure we get the support first to implement this plan,” he said.
“I can assure you, during the course of [this plan], we will adjust these things because there’s obviously a need for more than what’s contemplated here. But we’re going to take it in sort of an incremental fashion, significant incremental fashion.”