Toronto council unanimously asked the province to give the city more time to weigh in on significant changes to the development process, which many members said Wednesday will be to the benefit of developers and to the detriment of their local neighbourhoods.
That vote included Premier Doug Ford’s own nephew, Michael Ford, who did not speak during the debate but who agreed with some staff recommendations that also asked the province to set revenue neutrality as a goal of the proposed legislation or compensate cities for revenue losses. He and the rest of council asked the province amend parts of the newly-proposed rules to allow broader powers to ensure affordable housing and additional time for staff and council to consider development applications.
The remainder of the staff recommendations proposing other changes to the provincial housing legislation carried 25-1, with Ford against.
The province, by moving to change how funds are collected from developers and returning to the rules of the controversial Ontario Municipal Board to settle disputes, has made it “impossible,” Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4 Parkdale—High Park) said, “to guarantee that the city of Toronto will be as worthwhile to live in 20 years from now as it is today.”
To developers, he said: “If you want a war, a war is what you get. If you want to stand up for Toronto, now is your time.”
His motion that could see the city place a hold on development in some parts of the city until more information about the bill and its impact is known, passed 22-4.
On May 2 the province introduced new legislation, Bill 108 — the More Homes, More Choice Act. The goals of the bill, government officials said, include increasing the supply of housing, streamlining the development process and providing more affordable options for Ontario residents.
On Tuesday, city staff published a report saying there was “limited evidence” those central objectives would actually be achieved by the legislation as written and went further to say it actually “undermines” the city’s ability to build livable communities by blending the tools Toronto has to extract benefits like parkland and community facilities from developers.
“It doesn’t benefit residents and it doesn’t benefit the needs of the city,” affordable housing advocate Councillor Ana Bailao (Ward 9 Davenport) told the Star, saying she’s concerned that the legislation as proposed would pool the money from developers into one account and see councillors and neighbourhoods pitted against one another for those resources.
“This community benefits (charge) would put not only councillors against councillors but most importantly needs against needs.”
She noted a new community centre that recently opened and a library under construction in her ward may not have been possible under the amended rules. City staff have identified several capital projects including libraries, park improvements and other facilities that are heavily relying on contributions from developers at the current level.
The province has not yet specified how the new community benefits charge will work or what cap will be placed on it. The city’s chief planner Gregg Lintern told council it would “be hard not to conclude” the changes will lead to a loss of funding.
Lintern also said the legislation, even if it succeeds in creating housing faster, still won’t ensure it’s actually affordable.
Bailao said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark has accepted an invitation to meet and she hopes the city’s concerns are heard.
“This was all done to create more affordability and more homes so what in this legislation ensures that any savings or any more profits the developer will get will be passed on to purchaser or the tenant?” Bailao asked.
“I don’t believe there’s any line of sight in the legislation that connects reduction in municipal costs . . . to an affordable housing unit,” Lintern said.
Mayor John Tory said the changes likely amounted to “an even bigger financial cutback for the city” in the long-term than the earlier debate on budget cuts that leave Toronto looking for more than $177 million in this year’s budget.
He said the province should, at the very least, start with proper consultation on these changes — which he said other municipalities are sure to have similar concerns about.
“I just don’t know if anybody will listen,” he said.
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags