How to build affordable homes in Toronto

One of the strangest things about the housing shortage is that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a housing shortage.

What the GTA suffers from as part of a national crisis is an acute lack of payable Housing.

This point will be obvious to many. But it has not yet had sufficient impact on proposed resolutions to one of our key concerns ahead of the October 24 Ontario general election.

For example, according to an exclusive report in the Star today, the Ford government is expected to announce the elimination of municipal developer fees for housing projects built in “restricted zones” soon after the election.

Most Toronto neighborhoods are designated for single-family homes only. This is a major obstacle to the construction of semi-detached, low-rise and other types of affordable housing in the city’s residential neighborhoods.

But the expected Ford initiative is not a solution. Given the history of gentrification that has seen loosening of zoning, this would fail unless specifically encouraged new housing deemed affordable.

The complete abolition of restricted residential areas is necessary. City planning officials across Ontario need to reform their zoning codes to provide an appropriate mix of housing types.

Some possible solutions to poll candidates for the 2022 local elections are given below.

We hear again and again that living space is scarce. But between 2006 and 2016, the growth of new Canadian housing units outstripped the increase in new homes by an average of almost 30,000 units per year.

But what kind of housing is the industry building?

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Largely due to the restrictive zoning in Canadian municipalities, developers have long focused on high-end housing rather than the starter homes, multi-family homes, and small apartment buildings that we need.

The starter home, once the backbone of the North American housing market, has all but disappeared. The classic starter house is a small, detached house with 1,400 square meters of living space and three bedrooms. It would cost about $270,000 today depending on land costs if just someone built them.

The Ford government earlier this year pledged to increase the number of housing units in Ontario by 1.5 million over the next decade.

However, this goal cannot be achieved because the official city plans of many of Ontario’s 444 municipalities provide too few new affordable housing units to meet the province’s goal.

Many local councils are influenced by NIMBYists (not-in-my-backyard) who give them their jobs. NIMBYists vote, wannabe vacant dwellers don’t.

These “not in my backyard” opponents of changes in their neighborhoods deserve a hearing, but not the lengthy ones they usually lead.

Since every candidate claims to care about affordable housing, don’t settle for happy front-door chats and meetings with all candidates.

Demand tough promises that candidates can be held accountable for specific actions they will take, including deadlines. For example, ask candidates to commit to:

Reform housing now. Give all Ontario communities a two-year deadline to reform their zoning to encourage a mix of all housing types, with an emphasis on affordable homes and rental units.

To reduce Developer fees for builders of affordable housing, regardless of where it is built. The city of Toronto’s fees charged to single- and two-family home developers were raised to $137,000 in July. That rules out building a starter house at a cost of $270,000.

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Toronto relies on developer fees for about 20 percent of its infrastructure costs.

So lower the fees for every new affordable unit, again regardless of where it’s built. Even with a lower fee, the increased number of building permits for the city’s most underserved market will offset the lost revenue and increase the number of taxpayers.

To reduce Taxes on profits from the construction of affordable housing. Developers have responded positively to these state and local incentives in the past, particularly during the several previous waves of New Canadians who needed decent homes.

Maybe we should bring back the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

Before it was dissolved and replaced by the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), the OMB had the final say in approving building proposals.

The comparatively swift OMB had the power to override inappropriate local zoning rules.

But an OMB deemed too powerful has given way to a more NIMBYist-friendly OLT, whose laborious approval process can take years.

This lengthy process means it often takes longer to get a project approved than it does to build.

In the absence of much-needed changes, the developers will continue to build monster houses and expand the forest of luxury apartment towers in GTA.

But the same popular power that fuels NIMBYism can be used to demand a boost in affordable housing construction that will strengthen GTA’s economic base.

And remember, housing isn’t a vague function of the economy.

At stake, among other virtues, is your children’s ability to afford a starter home close to you rather than having to look far away for decent, affordable housing.

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