Now Magazine: Toronto is low-balling when it comes to affordable rentals: ACORN

Posted June 21, 2021

Toronto is not making the most of Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) in the fight for affordable housing against overzealous real estate developers, according to ACORN.

The community advocacy union released a report called Inclusionary Zoning In Toronto on June 19 that argues the city should use its IZ tool to mandate real estate developers set aside 20 to 30 per cent of new condo developments for affordable rental housing. But the effectiveness of IZs in creating more affordable housing options is questionable thanks to Ford government policies.

Inclusionary Zoning is a policy tool that the former provincial government empowered municipalities to use, designating areas where developers must set aside a percentage of new units for affordable housing.

“The city is targeting three to 10 per cent (minimums) of all new rental units to be considered affordable,” ACORN member Abdullah Naqvi tells NOW. He argues that’s a lowball figure, especially since, according to ACORN, Toronto’s own third-party feasibility reports suggest that 20 per cent of condo developments could be designated for affordable rental housing in three quarters of the areas in the city.

ACORN also cites a recent study by Maytree Foundation that found 39 per cent of units in typical condo developments in high-price areas could feasibly be set aside for affordable rent, which the city recently defined as income-based – as in not affordable based on being a little lower than astronomical market rates.

NOW reached out to the City Of Toronto and Planning and Housing committee chair Ana Bailão and member Brad Bradford for comment and will update this story.

Naqvi is speaking to NOW from the Dufferin and Bloor area in Bailão’s ward, where ACORN members talking to locals about IZs and signing petitions to push for more affordable rental housing. More members were doing the same at Main and Danforth in Bradford’s ward.

In the report, ACORN mentions that 81,000 households are on social housing waiting lists in Toronto. And the city’s own Incusionary Zoning Assessment report states that almost half of tenant households are spending 30 per cent or more of their income on housing. More than 20 per cent are spending over 50 per cent of their income on rent.

ACORN surveyed Toronto residents and found more than 70 per cent want a minimum of 20 per cent of new units developed for affordable housing. More than half the respondents also said that IZ measures should apply to any development with 30 units or more. According to ACORN, the city is currently recommending that IZ requirements do not apply to developments that have less than 100-140 units (depending on what part of the city), which the union calls a giveaway.

The report asserts that the city apply the full force of IZs to all the areas it can, especially since the ability to do so is consistently undermined by Doug Ford’s government, which has been bending a knee to developers since it came to power. The province has allowed construction to continue during the worst of the pandemic despite on- site COVID-19 outbreaks. The province uses Municipal Zoning Orders (MZO) to fast-track developments. And they’ve been maneuvering to undermine the Greenbelt.

Ford’s government has already limited the effectiveness of IZs in 2019 with Bill 108, which says the municipal tool can only be applied near major transit stations. That gives condo developers – who are reticent to build anything bigger than a one-bedroom and are certainly not keen on building less profitable rental units – free rein everywhere else.

Bill 108’s limitation on IZs means condo developers can go to town in areas like Scarborough, where subway stations are proposed but not yet moving forward. Those developers would have no obligation to develop affordable housing units in those areas. By the time the subway stations do arrive in Scarborough, the surrounding areas will already be flush with overpriced condo units, rendering IZs mute.

“When you consider Bill 108, it’s essentially a developer handout,” says Naqvi. “It’s absurd that these people have corporate donors and corporate interests. There’s talk of city councillors receiving campaign contributions from developers. Talk about a conflict of interest. This is ridiculous.”

***

Article by Radheyan Simonpillai for NOW Magazine

 

Sign up for ACORN's newsletter