Toronto is moving forward with plans to implement inclusionary zoning — a tool the city is counting on to meet its affordable housing goals — despite the upheaval caused by provincial legislation announced earlier this month.
“The fact is that we can’t afford any delays,” said Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, speaking with the Star on Tuesday. “If the goal is to get more affordable housing we should just move forward with this one. We should continue this process.”
Inclusionary zoning is the official term for a math equation that, once the actual numbers are sorted out, will be applied to future development projects and will require builders to agree to a set number of units that people with low and moderate incomes could afford.
The previous Liberal government announced the regulations more than two years ago, after years of debate and consultation, and municipalities were told local governments would have a strong hand in crafting local policies.
What has thrown everything into flux is Bill 108, sweeping legislation the Progressive Conservative government released on May 2, which proposes changes to the planning act that could result in inclusionary zoning only applying to buildings close to major transit hubs unless special clearance is granted by the province.
Bailao said the change could set the zoning process back another two years and comes at a time when no affordable unit can be spared, something she intends to press during a meeting with Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and chief planner Gregg Lintern that the minster’s office confirmed will take place early next week.
Clark’s spokesperson Julie O’Driscoll said by email the proposed changes to inclusionary zoning “would facilitate the supply of affordable housing in areas that are generally subject to growth pressures, higher housing demand, and in proximity to higher order transit.” She said the minister was looking forward to meeting with the city and to find ways “we can work together to provide more housing, and more choice at a price people can afford.”
In the meantime, city staff have just completed a task set by the previous Liberal government to craft a policy framework that factors in both the city’s affordable housing needs and those of builders. That report was released on Tuesday and will be debated by the planning and housing committee next week.
If the committee signs off the public consultations, which will include open houses, online engagement and consultations with developers, residents and housing advocacy groups, will begin in June.
Included in the city’s framework: That inclusionary zoning only apply to buildings with 100 units or more in “strong market areas” such as the downtown and along much of the Yonge St. corridor where land could be sold at a premium, and at 140 units outside those neighbourhoods. The authors also suggest a 25-year affordability period and that the number of affordable units in purpose-built rentals range from 2.5 to 5 per cent, and from 10 to 20 per cent in condominium projects based on location.
“We can get more affordable housing through ownership than we can through rental,” Bailao said. “This is what we are putting on the table.”
Bailao said while having more units in rental buildings and keeping everything affordable in perpetuity would be ideal, the targets in the report came through rigorous analysis by city staff and represent an economic case that can be defended before the province, which has the final say.
Councillor Mike Layton said his first reading of the report raised serious concerns around what is being proposed in terms of the number of units.
“The city is focusing more on trying to adapt to the uncertain instead of putting forward ambitious policy,” said Layton, who laid blame on both the previous Liberal government for creating confusing rules and the Progressive Conservatives for introducing “chaos” to the process.
“The city has had its hands tied for a decade during this construction boom and now that we have the power the rules change again,” Layton said.
In the report city staff noted housing pressures are felt the most by renters who make up 47 per cent of households and of that group, almost one in four puts more than 50 per cent of their income towards rent.
“Issues of housing affordability have grown exponentially in recent years, impacting not only the city’s most vulnerable residents, but increasingly low- and moderate-income households as well,” staff wrote. Staff have also asked that the committee instruct them to report back on consultation findings and proposed changes by the end of the year.
Last week, city council voted unanimously to ask that the province extend the June 1 deadline for consultations on Bill 108 after the city manager and head of planning produced a report stating there was “limited evidence” the act as written could live up to the province’s claims.
With files from Jennifer Pagliaro
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar