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Build Toronto fails to hit affordable housing targets

WATCH: A plan to build 1,250 affordable housing units in Toronto between 2010 and 2015 resulted in only a dozen being built. The target was missed by more than 99%. Dave Trafford reports.

TORONTO –  A plan to build 1,250 affordable housing units in Toronto between 2010 and 2015 resulted in only a dozen being built. The organization responsible missed the target by more than 99 per cent.

Build Toronto is the arms-length real estate and development corporation created to generate value from Toronto’s real estate assets. The corporation signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city in 2010 “to set aside sufficient lands in order to construct 1,000 units of affordable rental housing between 2010 and 2015, and 250 units of affordable ownership housing.”

So how does it happen that only 12 out of the 1,250 units were completed? Mayor Rob Ford, whose brother Doug sat on the Built Toronto board as his representative, admits there was no commitment to follow through on the MOU and chalks it up to the changing of the guard at city hall in 2011.

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“I believe that commitment was David Miller’s commitment. A new administration came in just like there’s another new administration and they’ll have the choice to follow through on that commitment or not,” said Ford.

Ford contends the city shouldn’t be telling developers they have to include affordable units.

“It’s tough to get maximum value out of any development if you’re going to tell them there are going to be TCHC units within that complex.”

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But that just leaves the chair of the Affordable Housing Committee frustrated.

“I feel like, ’Ya…there’s no accountability in the terms of only 12 units being done.’ So now what?” Councillor Ana Bailao said.

It would seem the current board is only prepared to look forward.

“I started a little over a year ago and my focus since that  date was to assist the affordable housing office, assist the city to get going with affordable housing  and that’s what we’re doing now,” Build Toronto President Bill Bryk said. “I really don’t know what the past was. I’m focused on the future – delivering affordable housing to the city.”

But that doesn’t mean the 2010 MOU is simply forgotten or that the units won’t get built.

“There’s a lot of discussion around that MOU,” says Bryk. “Maybe it will evolve into another MOU. I’m not even ready to think about that now. I’m trying to get real estate into the market to deliver our properties that we can.”

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Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong is Mayor John Tory’s representative on Build Toronto. He blames the failure to deliver on the corporation’s inability to set realistic targets.

“I suspect that they were very aspirational about that and should have been perhaps more modest in what we were preparing to build,” says Minnan-Wong.

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He admits the failure to deliver on the plan is a setback in the effort to build more affordable housing in Toronto but says the only thing to do is move forward and better define the city’s needs and Build Toronto’s role.

“You should be taking a practical approach saying ‘What’s practical to build? What can we build? Can we get enough money? Are we selling enough properties? Does this really make sense? Then create a realistic goal so nobody’s disappointed and so we can actually build some units.” he says.

The future of Build Toronto is about to be re-cast. City council will discuss and debate the corporations function and how it relates to Toronto’s need to provide and build new affordable units.

But no matter the outcome of the review and re-casting, Minnan-Wong says one fundamental issue will not change when it comes to implementing agreements with the city.

“It’s the Board of Director’s responsibility to make sure that any agreements are followed and its management’s responsibility to remind the board that they need to do this,” he said.

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