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Housing takes centre stage at NAIOP International Women’s Day event

Panel included Mirabella president Julie Di Lorenzo and Dream's Ana Bailão

(L-R) Julie Di Lorenzo, Ana Bailao and Alexandra Khazzam sit on a panel at NAIOP Greater Toronto's annual International Women’s Day event.
(L-R) Julie Di Lorenzo, Ana Bailão and Alexandra Khazzam sit on a panel at NAIOP Greater Toronto's annual International Women’s Day event.

“There's no industry that's going to have a bigger impact on the soul of this country than the housing industry,” according to Dream Unlimited Corp. head of affordable housing and public affairs Ana Bailão.

While International Women’s Day is officially March 8, Bailão made her statement at the NAIOP Greater Toronto Chapter’s annual International Women’s Day event at Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel on March 5.

Bailão represented Davenport on Toronto city council from 2010 until 2022 and was deputy mayor from 2017 to 2022 before retiring from council. She made an attempted return to politics and placed second in the 2023 Toronto mayoral byelection to Olivia Chow.

Before taking her private sector position with Dream, Bailão served as chair of the City of Toronto’s Planning and Housing Committee and worked extensively on housing affordability issues. Her deputy mayor portfolio included responsibility for housing, which grew in importance and added programs under her tenure.

Hines managing director Alexandra Khazzam interviewed Bailão and Mirabella Development Corporation president Julie Di Lorenzo at the NAIOP event.

Julie Di Lorenzo and Mirabella Development Corporation

Di Lorenzo’s involvement in the real estate industry goes back to 1982, when she was a contractor and interest rates were around 20 per cent.

As one of the largest female-run residential development companies in North America, Mirabella is responsible for thousands of units in Canada, the United States and Taiwan. Some of the full-service developer’s notable Toronto projects include Mirabella Condominiums, Phoebe on Queen, The Florian and One City Hall.

In addition to her responsibilities with Mirabella, the successor company to Diamante Urban Corporation, she’s served as president of BILD (which gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017), on the boards of several organizations and in advisory capacities for various governments.

Canada likely needs to produce more housing than anywhere else in the world due to increasing immigration. Eight per cent of the country’s gross domestic product is related to real estate, which Di Lorenzo said is double that of other G7 countries.

“You can’t be a developer and not be aware of every single economic factor because we're actually producing physical space for all this economic activity, whether it's residential or commercial,” Di Lorenzo said.

Addressing Toronto’s housing issues

Di Lorenzo believes the real estate industry has lost the confidence of condominium purchasers. After more than a decade of virtually no interest rate increases, they were hit hard when rates started rising in 2022 and Di Lorenzo would like to see rate caps put in place to protect new condo purchasers.

She said Toronto builders are among the fastest in North America to complete the construction of multifamily residences, but she always welcomes new innovations to improve the process.

While different levels of government are talking about housing more than ever, Bailão said programs that are being introduced now to spur it could have been launched years ago.

Housing starts have plunged due to high costs and slower sales, and even high-rise developments that are launching won’t impact the market until they’re completed in five years.

“People are not seeing the urgency of the situation we're in right now,” Bailão said. “We cannot afford just to talk about rezoning. We need it.

“All the conversations we’re having are good conversations to have. But is that going to get shovels into the ground? It’s not.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Feb. 22 that the City of Toronto would receive $114 million in provincial funding for exceeding its 2023 housing target. It was given the goal of building 20,900 new homes and had 31,656 new construction starts last year.

“The City of Toronto is not going to get a $114-million cheque next year because the housing starts are not going to be there,” Bailão said. “They're not going to get the land transfer tax because things are not selling.”

Di Lorenzo said land now comprises 10 to 15 per cent of a pro forma for a development project and that 30 per cent of the cost of a new condo unit goes to taxes. 

Di Lorenzo would like to see the introduction of tax increment financing. It captures the increase in property taxes, and sometimes other taxes, resulting from new development, and diverts that revenue to subsidize that development.

More partnerships and communication are needed

Bailão believes the only way to solve the housing crisis is through land to be made available for it and the creation of partnerships involving the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Di Lorenzo would like to see more unity and information-sharing in the real estate industry to achieve Canada’s housing goals. 

“You need to have that complete interchange of information with every single factor in the industry,” she said.

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