30,000 AFFORDABLE HOMES LOST
The Price of Toronto's Long Waits for Provincial Permission
"Opportunity Knocks: Toronto City Council's Chance to Create Tens of Thousands of Affordable Homes"
People often ask us how a constitutionally-protected City Charter for Toronto would make a real world difference to the quality of life and to the success of the city.
A new report by Social Planning Toronto, the change lab and the Affordable Housing Challenge Project gives one pretty clear answer: 30,000 affordable homes.
Part of the report, "Opportunity Knocks: Toronto City Council's Chance to Create Tens of Thousands of Affordable Homes", examines the number of affordable homes that could have been built in the city of Toronto over the past decade if the city had had the authority to impose Inclusionary Zoning.
Such zoning rules allow the city to require that developers set aside a percentage of units in new buildings as affordable units. "Affordable" is currently defined as being at or below the city's average rental rate, though there are proposals to make affordable housing even cheaper.
As with many modern tools for improving city life, Toronto could not move to implement Inclusionary Zoning rules without the express, legislated permission of the province of Ontario. The report details how the city repeatedly asked for this permission for nine years between 2009, when Opposition NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo tabled a private member's bill on the subject, and 2018, when the province finally relented in one of the last pieces of legislation passed by the Wynne Liberal government.
According to the report authors, "Our research estimates that 30,862 affordable rental housing units could have been produced through IZ over the past decade (2011-2020) if not for provincial delays that denied IZ powers to municipalities for years.... This represents 7.5 times the amount of affordable rental units actually completed over that period."
That level of affordable housing would have gone a long way toward reducing what the report calls the "racial, spatial, and social inequality" in Toronto.
Even now that Inclusionary Zoning is available to the city, restrictions imposed by the province make it impossible to apply the concept city-wide.
To be fair, the report's authors also criticize the approach to Inclusionary
Zoning Toronto is taking now that it does have the authority to impose it. They point out that failing to impose stricter IZ requirements could cost the city another 10,000 to 18,000 affordable housing units between now and 2024. Just because the city is given power does not mean it will always use it to best effect. But at least city residents can more easily pressure their city council to up its game on affordable housing than they can provincial parties, which answer to voters from outside the city.
In any case, this example makes it abundantly clear that depriving the city of the authority to address the important issues its residents face results in lost opportunity and a degraded quality of life for Toronto residents.
We've written here before about how the city's need to get provincial permission to do things has resulted in absurd delays, such as the six years it took for the province to grant the city permission to simply hire traffic wardens to help people cross busy intersections. Toronto Star columnist Matt Elliott has reported that Toronto City Council made 418 requests to the province between 2018 and 2021 for action on local matters where the city does not have the authority to act. That's 17 requests per council session! What other important issues are getting tied up in this mess?
Look: Toronto has 3 million people. It's government is the sixth-largest in the country, way bigger than most provinces. How is it possible that our city has less power to act on important issues like affordable housing than Prince Edward Island, with a population one-twentieth of Toronto's? It's past time to take a look at some of the underlying assumptions about cities in Canada.
A City Charter, protected by an easy-to-achieve, single-province constitutional amendment, would break the century and a half logjam that prevents cities from living up to their full potential.
The next provincial election in Ontario is June 2, 2022. Provincial parties are now formulating their platforms, including their promises for cities. If you think they should be thinking hard about giving cities the authority and resources to run more of their own affairs--and the constitutional protection those arrangements would need to prevent them from being revoked by future provincial governments, write your MPP, your party's leader, your city councillor, your favourite newspaper--and say so.