Open Door initiative to cut red tape for affordable housing development

WATCH ABOVE: Mayor John Tory announces plan to provide affordable housing faster after falling short on current goals to build new. Mark McAllister reports.

TORONTO – Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced a new initiative aimed at streamlining the process for affordable housing development.

Tory made the announcement Monday at a vacant lot near Spadina Street and Davenport Road, an example of a site sitting empty for too long as low-income Torontonians scrounge for somewhere to live.

The initiative, Open Door, is designed to encourage developers, both private and non-profit, to build affordable rental and ownership housing.

READ MORE: The rental crunch: How a lack of apartments is affecting Canadian cities

“Open Door will change the way the city does business with developers,” said Tory. He said the city will “build more badly needed affordable housing, faster.”

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In a release, the city said the Open Door approach would include measures to:

• unlock opportunities on private, public and non-profit land
• fast-track the planning-approval process
• expand City financial incentives to reduce construction costs, and
• challenge provincial and federal governments and private and non-profit developers to scale up their efforts.

The release said specific proposals under those four themes will be developed by interdivisional staff this year following Council consideration of Open Door.

Tory said the city has been averaging 52 new units of affordable housing per year, far short of the goal of 250 per year. He said the city should be opening doors for developers, “not stand in their way.”

The site of the announcement, 200 Madison Ave., is a city-owned lot pegged for use for affordable housing. Tory said for 10 years the lot has been in “development limbo,” which Tory called “unacceptable.”

READ MORE: Build Toronto fails to hit affordable housing targets

He said an RFP for the site will be issued in May, the approvals process will be accelerated, and there will be shovels in the ground by early 2016.

Tory vowed to repeat that expedited process for developments throughout the city.

Tory was joined by the City’s Housing Advocate, Counc. Ana Bailao. She said the new initiative is badly needed.

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Bailao said Toronto needs to be a “super highway, not a dead end” when it comes to approving affordable housing projects.

WATCH ABOVE: Mayor John Tory announces the Open Door initiative, aimed at boosting development of affordable housing in Toronto.

She said the site at 200 Madison Ave. is on its way to being home to 200 people in 80 units. A one-bedroom unit will be set at less than $857 per month, below CMHC’s average market rent.

“We need to create complete communities,” said Bailao, touching on the need for high and low-income earners to not be segregated to have and have-not neighbourhoods.

She said Toronto is stepping up to do its share to create affordable housing, but more government-owned land offered up for development and more funding is key for real progress.

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“We need our partners to put the foot on the gas and join us,” said Bailao, in a challenge to the province and federal government.

Tory said there is always room for review of rules and legislation. He said $20 million has been earmarked for Open Door to get underway. He echoed the sentiment that all three levels of funding need to be in play.

“We’re just saying now that everybody has to step up,” said Tory.

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