Toronto’s new housing plan calls on province, feds to cover half of 40,000 affordable units
|Toronto Star Yesterday 03 Dec 2019 at 18:57|
Mayor John Tory’s campaign promise of building 40,000 new affordable homes over the next decade will now rely on other levels of government to complete half of those units, a new city housing action plan reveals.
The 10-year Housing Opportunities Toronto, or HOT, plan outlines development targets, deadlines and commitments required by council to create and maintain affordable housing across the city. It will also, the report states, require investments totalling $23.4 billion to achieve those goals.
But the success of what city staff called an “aggressive housing agenda” relies heavily on the federal and provincial governments, asking them to put up $14.9 billion over 10 years. The report also fails to outline a funding plan, promising further details through the 2020 budget process.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Tory — who has staked his mayoral reputation, in part, on the housing agenda — called the plan a “comprehensive blueprint” to help solve the city’s housing crisis.
“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 their own,” Tory said. “I believe this plan ... really represents something that will produce the innovative and unique solutions across the spectrum of housing that will help us to address this.”
The city currently provides land and financial incentives to developers through two housing programs designed under Tory’s administration, Open Door and Housing Now.
The programs provide land and financial incentives to developers, such as waiving property taxes, in exchange for securing units within new buildings at affordable rents for a set period of time, often decades.
Though Tory promised to build 40,000 new affordable rental units over 12 years during the 2018 campaign, the HOT report headed to council later this month only identifies a way to build half of those units — 20,000 — through those existing programs.
“This support is essential for the federal and provincial governments to complement the city’s efforts and deliver their 50 per cent share (20,000 units) of new affordable rental and supportive homes as well as to support existing residents living in inadequate conditions,” a covering report from city staff reads.
The report itself speaks to a lack of funding, saying that amidst a booming housing market “lower and moderate-income residents” have been faced with increasing unaffordability.
“During the next decade, the City of Toronto will have to continue to step-up its own actions while calling for significantly more action and funding commitments from the federal and provincial governments,” the report’s summary says.
“There is no room for half-measures or patchwork solutions.”
Ontario’s Housing Ministry has the report and is “reviewing it carefully,” while moving forward with provincial policy to boost housing supply, Julie O’Driscoll, a spokesperson for Minister Steve Clark, wrote in an email. Toronto is receiving more than $220 million in provincial dollars over 2019 and 2020, including funds for homelessness prevention, she wrote.
Valérie Glazer, press secretary with the federal Office of the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, wrote in an email that a “number of programs” through the National Housing Strategy “would be available to this kind of initiative” and they will continue to work closely with the city and the province to “tackle housing challenges.”
An independent analysis of Toronto’s housing market attached to the report described a desperate situation where people are in shelters waiting for supportive housing for an average of five to seven years. Wait times for social housing have also increased, rents have skyrocketed and residents earning a median income can now expect to take 11 to 27 years to save 10 per cent for a down payment on a median-price home, the Canadian Centre of Economic Analysis (CANCEA) and the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) analysis said.
“People are stuck,” says the report. “Toronto’s housing and homeless supports system is bursting at the seams.”
Meanwhile it is not clear if the city can achieve its own goal of 20,000 units built over the next 10 years under the current programs.
When council approved the Housing Now program earlier this year, it included 3,700 affordable rental homes over the next 10 years. Stepping up that program, as recommended in the HOT plan, would commit the city to nearly tripling that amount using similar incentives.
Housing Now built on the existing Open Door program, which was approved in 2015 and has seen 7,752 affordable units approved.
While the city approved just over 10,000 new affordable units in the last decade, only half will be completed by the end of 2019.
The new plan also proposes that of the 40,000 units, 18,000 should be supportive units meant for vulnerable people at risk of homelessness. The city approved the creation of 18,000 new supportive units in 2018 as part of a separate plan to address homelessness.
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Mark Richardson, technical lead for open data and civic tech project HousingNowTO.com , said trying to fold supportive units, which require separate planning and sustained funding to operate, into the city’s existing programs not only makes the overall target harder to hit, it adds “exponentially more risk” to the entire plan.
“The previous plan was a moon shot. The plan as they have described it today is a voyage to Mars,” Richardson said. “They have made it far more technically difficult and introduced a whole bunch of risk and I don’t know what they are going to bring to the table if the feds and the province don’t show up.”
Of the $8.5 billion in investment that the report says should be the city’s responsibility over 10 years, city staff say $5.5 billion is already committed. Of that, most is accounted for in the $4.1 billion council has vowed to spend over 10 years on a more sustainable funding model for Toronto Community Housing.
Of the $3 billion outstanding, the vast majority is not actual cash but financial incentives — such as waiver of development charges — or land leases.
Tory said Tuesday that much of the city’s investment is already committed and the rest would be collected “in the appropriate manner or allocating land.”
“The history books are filled with examples of commitments made in the past by people, whether they were right or wrong to make those predictions, that were not fulfilled and not achieved,” Tory said.
“We’ve got to be determined about this. And I think the other governments understand the urgency of the problem, socially and economically, and we’re just going to have to make sure they respond.”
Toronto spent years campaigning for outside funds for Toronto Community Housing after both the provincial and federal governments stepped back from the file decades ago.
Ottawa shifted gears this April with a $1.3-billion federal pledge — $810 million in loans and $530 million in grants — to repair and improve accessibility in and around 58,000 units in TCH buildings. The provincial government has yet to contribute substantial repair dollars.
Other goals contained in the new HOT plan include preventing 10,000 evictions using existing city programs and other unspecified means; improving housing affordability for 40,000 households through additional rental subsidies; and improving housing conditions in 74,800 units through repairs.
A Toronto Housing Charter, if approved, will mean city departments must collaborate and reallocate resources with an eye to “making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring,” and collect data to report to government and make accessible to the public.
Kira Heineck, executive lead of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness, said robust data will mean complex and mounting problems can be tackled in real time.
“At a time when the housing crisis has probably never been greater, for everyone, and homelessness never been more of an emergency this is a key opportunity for all of us to come together behind a plan that moves us in the right direction.”
Greg Suttor, a senior researcher at the Wellesley Institute, said an early read of the plan revealed a “a good starting point in terms of where we want to go” but was short on details around implementation.
“You need to start naming what the steps are,” Suttor said. “That is how you are going to get from here to the goal.”
Suttor said one number that did jump out was a recommendation to leverage some $819 million worth of city land through the Housing Now initiative. “That implies a pretty big push on city land and not a big push on capital funding,” Suttor said.
The new HOT report will go to the city’s planning and housing committee next week, before heading to council for approval at a meeting that begins Dec. 17.