CBC News: Metrolinx sells public land to developer for $64.5M with no conditions for affordable housing

Posted January 31, 2022

Ontario's regional transit agency sold a piece of prime public land next to the Port Credit transit hub to a private condo developer last month without insisting that the buyer provide affordable housing — a move that housing advocates and local politicians are criticizing as "a missed opportunity."

The site, a parking lot about three quarters of a hectare, was sold by Metrolinx to Edenshaw Queen Developments Ltd. for $64.5 million. The lot is on Queen Street next to the Port Credit GO station and the Hurontario light rail transit station, which is still under construction. It's at the heart of an ambitious transit hub for GO trains, the LRT and Mississauga buses. 

Mississauga Coun. Stephen Dasko, who represents the neighbourhood, called the decision not to insist on an affordable housing component as a condition of the sale "a missed opportunity" for the city.

"It was owned by the public...and I think some conditions could have been put to it to ensure that we had some things done, like affordable housing."

The average price of a home in Mississauga last May was $1.06 million, according to the online real estate brokerage Zoocasa. That's up 34 per cent compared to May 2020.

A 2016 report on affordable housing to Mississauga councillors indicates low income families there can afford to spend no more than $221,147 on a home, or rent one for no more than $1,387 a month.

Nationally, according to a July 2021 report by real estate brokerage RE/MAX, Mississauga has the fourth worst house-price-to-income ratio in Canada, behind only Victoria, Toronto and Vancouver.

"Housing affordability is an issue for almost 1 in 3 Mississauga households, including 1 in 8 who are in deep need (i.e. spending 50% or more)," the city staff report states, "and 1 in 12 who are in severe need (i.e. spending 70% or more)."

Nabeela Irfan, a resident of Port Credit and a member of the Peel Region chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a group that advocates for lower income individuals and families, said an affordable component to the new development is much needed in the neighbourhood.

"We know that the GTA and the province at large is struggling with affordable housing. We know that's an issue," she told CBC Toronto.

"The likely scenario is existing homeowners will buy units [in the new development] as a second investment property, and then they'll rent it out at unaffordable prices to tenants who are unlikely to be able to afford these market prices," she said.

"And then they'll be scraping by, and then the cycle continues. It's a missed opportunity."

According to a recent analysis by Teranet, the province's online land registration provider, people who already own at least one property made up 25 per cent of home buyers last year, compared to 10 years ago when investors made up the smallest percentage.

Some jurisdictions in Ontario have adopted inclusionary zoning — a planning tool that municipalities use to force developers to include a certain number of affordable units in new builds, particularly those that are near public transit corridors. Toronto city council adopted inclusionary zoning late last year.

Mississauga councillors are in the process of deciding whether they'll follow suit, but currently have no such control over developers.

And that, according to a spokesperson for Transportation Minster Caroline Mulroney, is why Metrolinx was not obligated to insist developers include an affordable housing component in their bids.

"Each individual municipality mandates their own affordable housing policies and thus any third party developer is required to follow that municipalities planning process," Dakota Brasier, a spokesperson for Mulroney, said.

Metrolinx made a similar claim in an email to CBC Toronto on Jan. 21.

But that reasoning is getting short shrift from Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto professor of planning and transportation policy, who said the transit hub would have been an ideal spot for the province to mandate affordable housing in the sale of the once public land.

'Once in a lifetime opportunity'

"The project at Port Credit is a microcosm of what's taking place across the entire region. We have these once in a lifetime opportunities," he said.

Instead, the province is, in general. trying to maximize its returns on the sale of provincial lands to help pay for new transit projects, Siemiatycki said. "And to do that, they've tried to maximize how much ... bidders will pay for it, and that means having the fewest number of restrictions or encumbrances on it."

Even though Mississauga currently has no inclusionary zoning rules, the site could eventually contain some affordable housing if the developer volunteers to do so, according to Dasko.

He said several developers in the past have included allowances for affordable housing in their projects.

Edenshaw said in an email that it has done so in past developments. The company wouldn't say whether it will in the Queen Street project.

Last week, CBC Toronto asked the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. which oversees planning policy, to explain whether the province could have set its own stipulations for developers interested in the Queen Street site — including a demand for affordable housing.  The ministry hasn't yet responded.

 

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Article by Michael Smee for CBC News

 

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