Chow sets out ‘first step’ in affordable housing plan, ups target by 25,000 homes

Photo credit: Mayor Olivia Chow via Twitter

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow presented on Aug. 24 what she called a “first step” in her bid to build 25,000 affordable rental homes, in addition to those already planned for the city.

In a motion backed by the city’s executive committee, Chow outlined a plan to get Toronto’s housing-related agencies working together on new public and community housing.

“I want to make sure they co-ordinate it, that there’s a bit of a one-stop-shop approach,” she said. “It’s the first step.”

The motion proposes revised housing goals to add 7,500 affordable homes of which 2,500 would be new rent-geared-to-income units and a new target of 17,500 rent-controlled homes.

That’s on top of the 40,000 affordable rental units the city has already committed to building by 2031.

Chow’s successful mayoral run earlier this year was headlined by a promise to get the city back into the building of public housing, rather than leaving it solely to the private sector.

Coun. Frances Nunziata voiced support for the motion on Aug. 24, saying affordable housing approvals too often came up against unnecessary application delays.

“I think it’s important that we all get together, all of us in one room and we talk about what needs to be done and this way we can expedite it,” she said.

The motion, which will be considered at a special meeting of city council on Sept. 6, asks staff to report back by the end of the year on its efforts to align the city’s resources and find suitable parcels of land for the homes.

One of Chow’s first moves as mayor was to fast-track discussions about the city’s long-term financial outlook and schedule Aug. 24’s special meeting of the executive committee.

The committee considered a major report prepared by the city manager and interim chief financial officer, which details a combined $46.5 billion in operating and capital pressures over the next decade. That includes an immediate $1.5 billion operating shortfall the city will have to contend with when it opens discussions on its 2024 budget.

In an effort to tackle the daunting financial forecast, the report considers several new revenue measures, including a progressive surtax on luxury home sales and hiking the vacant home tax from one to three per cent.

A commercial parking levy was another proposed revenue tool, with transit advocates and business lobby groups offering competing views on the measure when it was discussed Aug. 24.

A levy of between 50 cents and $1.50 per day on non-residential spaces could net the city between $173 million and $490 million in new annual revenue, according to estimates in a report prepared by consultants Ernst & Young.

Vincent Puhakka with the TTC Riders advocacy group said a levy on non-residential parking spaces could help reverse “devastating” TTC service cuts.

“A collapsed TTC will ruin downtown business. Putting a levy on parking will not,” Puhakka said.

Several business interest groups have come out against the levy, arguing it will hurt brick and mortar shops at a time when they are already struggling with a post-pandemic recovery and competition with online retailers.

“We ask that you look at it skeptically,” said Michael Brooks, CEO of Real Property Association of Canada.

Brooks said although the commercial real estate association opposes the levy, it would work with the city to push the provincial government to approve a Toronto sales tax.

The Ernst & Young report estimates a municipal sales tax, which would be the first of its kind in Canada but is used elsewhere including New York City, could bring in around $800 million annually.

Chow campaigned on a pledge to push the provincial and federal government for a new fiscal funding framework given the city’s limited revenue-raising tools, such as property taxes, and its outsized role in delivering transit and shelter services to the region.

The city manager has said even if Toronto approved all the new revenue measures at its disposal, it would only cover an estimated 40 per cent of its forecasted budget pressures.

“We do not have revenue tools that grow with the economy,” city manager Paul Johnson told Aug. 24’s committee meeting.

“We, as the fourth largest city in North America, need to think about the ways that large cities and important economic engines like Toronto are treated in other jurisdictions and find ways to do that in a uniquely Ontario and Canadian way.”

City council will consider the city manager’s recommendations at its September meeting.

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