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Toronto Mayor John Tory’s plan to fast-track affordable housing on 11 city-owned sites comes before city council on Wednesday for a vote. But some critics say Mr. Tory’s “Housing Now” plan does too little to help the city’s poorest people, as homeless shelters and Toronto’s special “winter respite centres” bulge at the seams and rents continue to skyrocket.

What is the plan?

The mayor and city staff say Housing Now will create 3,700 new affordable units by 2024, but they stress it is only a first step. More sites are to follow, Mr. Tory says, as he works to fulfill a campaign promise to build 40,000 affordable units over the next 12 years.

City staff are designing a package of incentives to entice both property developers and non-profit housing operators to apply to build housing on 11 sites, which include a number of commuter parking lots adjacent to subway stations. Developers have already expressed interest.

At a minimum, the proposed projects – which will produce more than 10,000 units in all – must have at least one-third “affordable” rental housing. Another third can rented at market rates. The rest of the units can be (much more profitable) condominiums.

In return, the city is offering the land, in the form of 99-year leases, and will waive property taxes and other fees on the portion of the project deemed affordable. Some parcels will be sold off for the condo portions of the projects.

The tax breaks over the next 99 years and the waiving of various fees will cost the city $280-million, city officials estimate. They have not released detailed appraisals of the parcels' value, but say the 11 sites are together worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Affordable for whom?

The plan defines an affordable rent as 80 per cent of the average market rent across the city, as measured by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Last fall, the average market rent in Toronto – for apartments of all sizes – was $1,372, which would put the affordable rate at $1,098.

Using the recognized benchmark that a maximum of 30 per cent of household income should go toward rent, this means a tenant needs to earn about $44,000 a year to afford such an apartment, the city says.

But the program also stipulates that 10 per cent of the new affordable units, or about 370, must be offered at 40 per cent (or below) CHMC’s average market rent, which is $549. That works out to 30 per cent of a $22,000 annual income.

Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, chair of the planning and housing committee, says she expects several on council’s left to call for more stringent rules to try to force developers to build even more affordable housing. But demanding more affordable units, she warns, could “kill the program,” by scaring off potential non-profit and private sector partners.

Instead, she says, the provincial and federal governments must help. The federal government has plans for a new rent-supplement program, which could put an 80-per-cent market-rate apartment into the reach of more people, she said.

“We need a spectrum of housing solutions,” Ms. Bailao said in an interview Tuesday. “This program is not the solution to all of the housing problems in Toronto.”

What do the plan’s critics say?

City Councillors Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam and a group of housing activists are to unveil detailed changes they want to see in the plan on Wednesday morning, before council convenes. The say the plan for the 11 sites does “not go far enough to meaningfully affect change.”

Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and long-time advocate for the homeless, says the plan will do little for the 181,000 people stuck on the city’s waiting list for “rent-geared-to-income” social housing, such as that offered by Toronto Community Housing Corp. – or those crammed in the city’s crowded shelter system and new winter respite sites. Those on social assistance, she points out, cannot afford to pay anywhere near 80 per cent of market rent.

“The affordable units are going to be affordable for somebody who’s a registered nurse, or somebody who is working in the city,” said Ms. Crowe, who is among those demanding that Mr. Tory declare a state of emergency on homelessness and housing in the city. “People are quite angry that city properties are being used so minimally to deal with the problem.”

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