A family waiting for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing in Toronto could wait as long as 10 years before being placed. Yet, with close to a billion dollars needed for repairs to Toronto Community Housing stock, some units fall into such disrepair that they should not be rented out.
At the same time the real estate market in Toronto is so overheated that even the most dilapidated property can stir a bidding war once it is up for sale, putting it out of reach for struggling low-income families. Little wonder then that the new regions for affordable accommodations have emerged on the outskirts of the city, where, by the way, access to public transportation is a daily challenge.
Newly sworn in mayor John Tory will have to consider this matter a high priority as he aims to unify this city. But he could have help from the province if a private member’s bill being brought forward by recently elected Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Peter Milczyn is passed.
Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, who until recently was a Toronto city councillor, would like the provincial government to give Ontario municipalities authority to direct developers to set aside five to 10 per cent of new condominium units in every residential project as affordable housing.
With 60,000 condominium units currently under construction and some 300,000 more in the planning stage, Milczyn estimates this would provide affordable homes for thousands of families.
Private member’s bills are always a long shot, but this is one measure that all concerned should get behind. We must begin to have a real answer to the growth of this city with a vision for it to be socially and economically integrated. Between 2006 and 2011, the city’s population increased by more than 100,000. As it is now, the lack of well-integrated affordable housing has resulted in the growth of low-income, immigrant enclaves in places like Rexdale and Little Mogadishu in the northwest.
As it is now, new developments in the downtown core and along core thoroughfares, such as Yonge St., leave little choice for low-income and even middle-income families but to move to the outer edges of the city. This takes them farther away from business hubs and work opportunities.
There is also the unspoken matter that young people from these peripheral residential enclaves are facing employment discrimination by postal code.
Toronto does not have to go down the wrong path on this at a time when city planners should have the authority to ensure that the long term view of this city is one in which all levels of society are equitably sharing in its benefits, including the housing market.
Milczyn’s Planning Statute Amendment Act would certainly not be the first of its kind in Canada. Already, Montreal demands 20 per cent of new residential construction are designated as affordable housing.
The city already has a policy in place for affordable units in developments being built on “large sites”, but most new buildings can skirt the policy. As it is, the current provincial policy only permits that the city can request developers provide affordable units voluntarily. With developers focused on the business of turning a profit from these constructions, accommodating low-income families would not be their primary mandate, which leaves the crisis essentially unresolved.
An additional solution could lie in developers leasing units to the city, which would be an answer to the shortage facing low-income renters, since not everyone would be able to purchase condominiums, even if they are designated as affordable. Going further, under such an arrangement, some RGI renters could enter into rent-to-buy agreements, for those who wish to become homeowners in the long-term.
We have to move with purpose toward an equitable and sustained housing solution if we are to ensure a city that continues to be the economic pride and gateway for this country.