TORONTO — The ambitious goal to end homelessness in the next 10 years will soon have a powerful legal tool for city officials.
The province announced legislation – to be introduced before the summer break – that would mandate inclusionary zoning. This would force developers to make a certain percentage of their units affordable for people with low incomes.
Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin made the announcement Monday morning at the Fred Victor Mission on Queen Street East. Councillors from the City of Toronto have been calling on this change for some time.
“It’s going to allow us to make housing more sustainable and create more housing,” said Councillor Ana Bailao, chair of the city’s Affordable Housing Committee.
Currently there are around 94,000 social housing units in the city. Nearly 70,000 of those have rent geared to income. McMeekin said inclusionary zoning could go a long way in helping the city reach its goal of ending homelessness in the next decade.
“[Toronto] could have built 12 thousand affordable housing unit in the last five years had inclusionary zoning been in place,” he said. McMeekin noted that for the first time, all three levels of government are working together towards a single goal.
“Friends, the stars are indeed lining up. The skies are clearing.”
Despite having a master’s degree in social work Rupa Amolik found herself in need of help in 2013 when a string of bad luck and an injury left her homeless.
“I wouldn’t give eye contact, I lost my confidence tremendously,” she said. Molik can attest to the importance of shelter as more than just four walls and roof.
“It was a huge relief to know that I would not be on the street; it was security,” she said.
“I had nowhere to go, no money, my home was lost.”
Some were cautious about Monday’s announcement. In the absence of details they worry it could raise the price of homes for other buyers.
“Let’s never kid ourselves to believe that this is free housing,” said Joe Vaccaro, CEO of the Ontario Homebuilders Association. “There is a cost associated with it. At this point it looks like new home buyers are going to be asked to pick up that bill. We have an issue with that obviously.”
Some studies in the US have shown that the price of condos and apartments do not go up when inclusionary zoning is mandated. But in those jurisdictions the subsidies for developers have been generous, according to Vaccaro. It’s unclear what the incentives will be for companies here.
It’s also unclear whether developers would have to disclose to potential buyers that they would be living beside an affordable unit.
“These are things to be welcomed, to have these mixed communities where people live together,” said Mayor John Tory. “I think they (developers) would be well advised to be transparent and it will be a prominent selling feature.”
In addition to inclusionary zoning, the province also announced it was drafting a framework for a portable housing benefit that would give people on social assistance the flexibility to choose where they live. Currently such subsidies are tied to property.
With this new system, “if you need to change your unit because you got a new job somewhere else, you don’t lose your housing subsidy,” said Bailao.
The zoning announcement was part of Ontario’s long-term affordable housing strategy, which includes $178 million over three years announced in the government’s recent budget.
McMeekin also said his government will provide an additional $45 million over three years to the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative and develop an Indigenous Housing Strategy.
It’s a step forward that helps Ontario catch up, said Greg Suttor, a housing researcher with the Wellesley Institute.
“It’s not a panacea for affordable housing, but it can help meet some of the needs,” he said.
“It will tend to create more of a social mix in development. For example, in downtown Toronto … if new development only serves the upper half of the income distribution, that’s not as healthy as if we build cities that house a bit more of everybody.”
In Toronto, lower-income people are already being pushed to outlying areas, Suttor said. A recent RBC Economics report listed Toronto’s housing market – along with Vancouver’s – as scorching, saying single-detached home affordability “continues to slip deeper into stressful territory for homebuyers.”
The government will launch consultations before introducing legislation, which would then take time to get passed. After the legislation is enacted, Tory said the city would develop an approach, put it before the executive committee, then get it approved by city council.
More detailed information, such as percentage requirements and definitions of “affordable,” were not forthcoming Monday, and it will likely be years before inclusionary zoning is in place in any Ontario communities.
With files from The Canadian Press