Posted May 27, 2021
Toronto City Council is weeks away from voting on its first inclusionary zoning (IZ) bylaw, a policy that could produce thousands of affordable housing units every year, simply by requiring new residential developments include them. But housing advocates are concerned that city hall is failing to fully recognize and seize the opportunity IZ offers to address Toronto’s housing crisis.
If passed, the city’s current draft IZ policy would produce two to four times less affordable housing than the city’s own studies demonstrate to be possible without costing taxpayers a dime.
That’s why community organizations across the city (including ACORN, Progress Toronto, Parkdale People’s Economy and Social Planning Toronto) are united in calling on city council to vote for the strongest IZ policy proven to be feasible — requiring 20 to 30 per cent of units in most new highrise residential developments are affordable to lower income Torontonians.
Our city is developing in an increasingly exclusionary and unsustainable way. Today, almost half of Toronto’s households are renters, and they’re on track to outnumber owners shortly. But over the past decade, despite our declining ownership rate, for every purpose-built rental unit built, nine condo units were built.
These new condos are unaffordable to the vast majority of residents. Most are bought by speculators who rent them at the least affordable rates in the city.
Toronto desperately needs more stable, affordable rental housing. Since 2000, average rents have climbed almost twice as fast as renters’ median income. Indigenous, Black, racialized, and low-income communities are bearing the brunt of this mounting crisis, disproportionately: paying more than half their income on rent, forced into overcrowded housing, amassing arrears, served with evictions, forced into shelters or encampments, and infected by COVID-19.
Left to its own devices, Toronto’s housing market is in the brutal process of evicting low-income residents from our city. Without bold action from our governments things will continue to get worse.
The city has a significant opportunity to address this crisis, with their final IZ policy set to be published and voted on this June and July. Its current draft policy falls far short. It would only require 5 to 10 per cent of the floor area of new highrise condo buildings and 3 to 5 per cent of new highrise rental buildings to be affordable to lower-income residents, depending on the area IZ was required.
In stark contrast, the city’s feasibility study found typical condo projects could be required to set-aside at least 20 per cent of their floor area for permanently affordable rental housing, in three quarters of the areas studied across the city.
A Maytree Foundation study asked how much more than 20 per cent was feasible and found that in high-price areas like Downtown and Yonge/Eglinton, up to 39 per cent of the floor area of typical condo developments could feasibly be required to be permanently affordable rental housing. Both studies deemed IZ requirements to be “feasible” so long as developers’ projected profits exceeded a motivating 15 per cent profit margin.
A stronger Inclusionary Zoning policy is possible and needed.
The experiences of other cities reinforce these findings. New York City requires 25 to 30 per cent of new highrises’ floor area to be affordable rental in many neighbourhoods. Montreal requires 40 per cent of most high rises to be affordable. London, England, a city with many decades of experience with this policy, requires up to 50 per cent.
These success stories force us to reckon with a sorely missed opportunity. Between 2010 and 2019, 159,000 housing units were built in Toronto, the vast majority in highrise condos. If 20 per cent had been required to be affordable rental, Toronto would have added 32,000 — almost eight times more than the 4,100 affordable rental units actually completed during that period.
With a staggering 194,000 housing units currently proposed and under review, a well-designed IZ policy could prove life changing for tens of thousands of Torontonians in the coming years.
IZ is only one of a number of policies that, if implemented in earnest, could make housing affordable for all Canadians. Also needed are: rent controls preventing de-tenanting and rent-hiking practices; much more investment in social housing; taxes and lending regulations to make investing in real estate less lucrative than investing in a greener, more productive economy.
If city hall is to live up to its recent commitment to work toward realizing the right to affordable housing for every resident, it needs to open its eyes to the full potential of IZ and vote for a policy that fulfils it.
Op-ed by Jeremy Withers, Melisa Bayon and Beth Wilson for the Toronto Star