Today, through an open letter, Waterfront Toronto, the government body with the mandate to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront, has made it clear that it is going ahead with the Sidewalk Labs (Google) plan to develop the Quayside. This means that the plan now moves to the next step of formal evaluation and a final decision on the plan is expected by 31st March 2020.
What has been the agreement?
An agreement has been reached which addresses the threshold issues that Waterfront Toronto had identified and were also raised by people across the city. Most importantly, the amount of land to be developed has been reduced to the originally proposed 12 acres of Quayside. However, it does say that additional public lands might be approved in future! With respect to privacy issues and mass surveillance, the proposal to establish an Urban Data Trust has been scrapped, so has been the proposal to develop new public administrator as a fourth layer of governance structure. However, for vertical development, Sidewalk Labs will partner with real estate developers where it will co-lead the process of procurement of the developer alongwith Waterfront Toronto. Why do we need a private company to lead the process of public procurement (and allow it to also identify for itself a preferred partner) and is there anything that will ensure that the real estate developer/s take concrete measures to provide affordable housing? NO!
What about providing affordable housing?
The agreement reached between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs mentions the following:
By December 2020, an affordable housing program and funding sources will be identified to achieve affordable housing in perpetuity.
Additional funding opportunities will be explored to provide deeper affordability levels and/or an increased number of units.
All affordable housing will meet or exceed the City of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Guidelines in effect at the time of construction, subject to any adjustment agreed to by the City of Toronto.
All Affordable Rental Housing will be owned by a public body or a non-profit organization
While on the one hand, it is good news that affordable housing and deeper affordability find a mention in the agreement, it does not go far enough to meet the concerns of thousands of ACORN members and other tenants reeling under a housing crisis!
ACORN members in their petition to Waterfront Toronto had clearly articulated their demands for affordable housing. When almost half of Toronto renters live in unaffordable housing, we want to see half of the new housing at significantly below 100% AMR. Two-thirds of the new housing rental must broken down as follows: 30% of the full development at 60% AMR, 20% at 80% AMR, 16% at 100% AMR.
On the contrary, the agreement only mentions meeting or exceeding the City of Toronto's Affordable Housing Guidelines which define affordability based on the Average Market Rent which is unaffordable for most low- and moderate-income tenants. Moreover, it makes no commitment to actually making the units affordable by saying that “additional funding will be explored to provide deep affordability”! It also does not even specify the percentage of units that will be affordable.
What does it mean for us and how can we engage?
This means that the fight for affordable housing continues! We need to be highly vigilant of these developments and negotiations between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs as it affects all of us!
The open letter mentions some upcoming public consultations:
A public consultation later this fall to resolve key issues and for providing clarity on what is being evaluated, and discussing the decision-making process going forward.
Another round of public consultation early in 2020 to share and seek feedback on the status of the evaluation.
We need to make our voices heard in these public consultations. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO NOT HAVE REAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING ON VAST SWATHES OF PUBLIC LAND!