A plan to force developers to build cheaper rentals is a game-changer. But does Toronto have the courage?


The great number

74 686

the projected number of people who could have found affordable housing in Toronto had the city been given the power to adopt an inclusive zoning policy ten years ago, according to a report by Social Planning Toronto concluding that 30,862 rental housing could have been produced between 2011 and 2020.

More than a decade in the works, Toronto is on the verge of adopting a new tool that could force developers to provide thousands of additional affordable housing units. This is called inclusionary zoning, or IZ.

But here’s the catch: to really make it work, some angry Toronto homeowners – the kind you might call NIMBY, and who show up at neighborhood consultation meetings to angrily complain about how new developments are too large, or too dense, or cast too many shadows, or will worsen traffic altogether – are going to need to relax.

There is no way around it. It’s just math.

IZ works by requiring developers whose projects meet prescribed criteria set aside a percentage of all units built for affordable housing. Toronto’s proposed plan, unanimously approved last week by City Hall’s Planning and Housing Committee and due to be presented to Toronto council for final approval this month, requires developers in areas Defined – the current provincial government won’t allow IZ near transit stations – to set aside between five and 10 percent of affordable or owned rental housing, starting next year. By 2030, this percentage could reach 22% for some projects.

It’s a game changer. Soon the arguments against the density of development will effectively be the arguments against affordable housing.

Let’s take an example. At the initial proposed percentages, a 300 unit condominium on a downtown block covered by the IZ policy is expected to deliver 21 rental housing units (or 30 property units). Based on affordability thresholds, rental units would rent for about $ 1,090 for a one-bedroom room, well below the average market asking cost of purpose-built rental housing of about 1,725. $.

But if nearby homeowners and residents’ associations start showing up at planning meetings to deliver speeches that invariably begin with phrases like “I’m not a NIMBY, but…” and successfully flap to cut a bunch of floors and 50 units in the project, that’s potentially four affordable homes on the table – and four families potentially missing a place to live.

It is the reality of tying part of a city’s affordable housing effort to ZI’s policy. It is an affordable housing model that relies on private developers who build a large number of units, make a solid profit, and then donate some of those units to the city’s affordable housing pool.

I’m not yet convinced Toronto really has the stomach for it. Hours after the Town Hall Housing Committee gave IZ its initial green light, the town’s Planning Department held a public meeting on the Danforth Avenue land use plans between Don Valley and Coxwell Avenue – a corridor served by a subway line that would be covered by IZ. But the suggested scale of development is minor, with buildings typically capped at seven or eight stories when located directly on Danforth, and just four or five stories when located one or two blocks away.

If IZ is to provide large affordable housing, the scale needs to be bigger. Areas like this, connected to public transport, must become denser.

If it’s done right, the numbers suggest IZ can shake things up on affordable housing. A Social Planning Toronto report released last week estimated that while Toronto was given the power of Queen’s Park to adopt the IZ soon after it was first proposed by the provincial NDP there is more ten additional 30,862 affordable rental housing between 2011 and 2020.

At Toronto’s average household size of 2.42 people, this could have provided affordable housing for up to 74,686 people. Talk about a missed opportunity. The report further suggests that there is room for Toronto to be more aggressive with its initial IZ percentages – a bolder policy could deliver up to 18,000 more units. Mayor John Tory and council should definitely consider following this recommendation.

But regardless of the percentages, IZ will not deliver enough affordable housing if angry residents continue to speak out loudly against denser developments, elected officials continue to listen, and the town hall continues to draw up zoning plans. that constrain, restrict and slow growth, greatly favoring current residents over new ones. There is a lot of math involved in this new policy, but the important equation to remember is simple: Under IZ, what does a percentage of insufficient housing earn you? Not enough affordable housing.

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