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PART II: 12 industry voices offer tips to fulfill Toronto mayor's quest for 25,000 more rental homes

Housing crunch in Canada's largest city, which seeks ways to provide 65,000 additional apartments/rentals

In light of an initiative by Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow to facilitate construction of 25,000 additional new rental housing units in Toronto, I reached out to 12 leaders within the rental development sphere, spanning the private, governmental, professional and non-profit sectors.

I posed a simple yet crucial question to them: How, in your professional opinion can we rapidly build 25,000 high-quality rental homes?

I asked for real, actionable and bold but realistic answers.

In Part II of this special project, we share the replies from our remaining six respondents. You can access Part I by clicking this link.

Daniel Marinovic – CEO and Managing Partner, Forest Gate Group

Daniel Marinovic – CEO and Managing Partner, Forest Gate Group
Daniel Marinovic, CEO and managing partner, Forest Gate Group

“During times of emergency in Ancient Rome, extraordinary powers were granted in order to resolve matters efficiently but within a mandated period of time. The housing crisis which plagues our country and Toronto in particular is without doubt an absolute emergency that requires extraordinary action to take place. 

"From a municipal standpoint, the current consultation and approval process could be augmented with a series of dedicated teams that are composed of functional area experts empowered with the sole focus of getting as many projects shovel-ready as possible.

"I’d suggest that the teams should be developer-funded in order to alleviate financial pressures on the city and that they should work collaboratively and in an integrated fashion with developers and their consulting teams to expedite approvals (i.e. from PAC to permit in less than one year as long as certain accepted 'past-the-post' guideline criteria are met).

"To ensure maximum cooperation and speed, they should be meeting and working with developers from the office as opposed to virtually – this is an emergency and it needs to be approached as such as to date no war has been won on Zoom. This will ensure turnaround time on feedback is addressed in an immediate fashion.

"As well, development charges need to be deferred until at least (the) building is fully stabilized and a reduced minimum charge should be considered together with profit share as a percentage of stabilized value.

"Developers should be held accountable to the timelines extended to them by their dedicated municipal team counterparts. If they miss timelines there should be penalties or they should move to the back of the approvals queue. They have to stay on track or get out of the way for someone else who can get their project coordinated.

"Likewise, they should have accepted timelines and penalties to commence construction once their permits have been issued. Developers should be held accountable to have trades lined up and ready to go.

"The wider public needs to be conditioned that this is in fact an incredibly serious crisis that affects the entire population. In light of this, the NIMBYs will have to accept that aspects of the consultation process will have to be circumvented. Proper controls and appropriate temporary powers granted to approvals teams should alleviate this potentially sensitive issue.

"Last and perhaps most importantly are the trades – the city can approve as many projects as it would like but without anyone to build, it’s for naught. The city needs to work with the federal government to expedite temporary worker visas for all skilled workers globally.

"Key and high-demand trades such as electricians, form workers, plumbers, etc. should be permitted to work immediately should they meet minimum criteria. Temporary and secure labour camps of high quality will inevitably be built for trades across the city . . . not only for newcomers but also for domestic trades who themselves struggle with the high price of housing and also navigating challenging Toronto traffic and increasing vehicle expenses.

"An abrupt change in such measures is always controversial, so the big question inevitably will be, 'How do we define when the emergency is over?' For me personally, housing is a fundamental human right so until all our exponentially growing population has access to adequate housing, this will continue to remain a crisis for the indefinite future."

Cheryll Case – Founder and Executive Director, CP Planning
Cheryll Case, founder and executive director, CP Planning

Cheryll Case – Founder and Executive Director, CP Planning

“The city's rapid affordable housing expansion plan is precisely what we need more of.

"For decades, residents and professional organizations have urged the city to repurpose under-utilized government land into affordable housing.

"They also emphasize that these proposals need to address high demand for affordable housing and a challenging economic landscape through appropriate density and design.

"To achieve this, the city must prioritize the voices and interests of lower-income households when collecting and summarizing community feedback on site development.”

Matti Siemiatycki – Professor of Geography and Planning and Director of the Infrastructure Institute, University of Toronto

“This plan is an ambitious target that meets the urgency of our housing crisis. It will take a Herculean ‘all of government’ approach if there is any chance of it being achieved.

"The good news is that there is no shortage of publicly owned land in the City of Toronto. By aggressively scouring the portfolio of city owned-libraries, recreation centres, community housing sites, parking lots, transit stations and fire stations, the city will be able to find prime development sites that are already serviced with utilities.

Matti Siemiatycki – Professor of Geography and Planning and Director of the Infrastructure Institute, University of Toronto
Matti Siemiatycki, professor of Geography and Planning and drector of the Infrastructure Institute, University of Toronto

"There should be no limits on creative thinking about how to redevelop, intensify or build housing on top of existing public facilities and their surface parking lots.

"Streamlining development planning and approvals is also paramount to moving quickly. Simply put, it takes far too long and is way too expensive to carry out all the studies and move a project from concept to construction.

"Parts of the development and approvals process can be integrated and standardized to increase the speed.

"A big question is where the money is going to come from to build all these new publicly owned housing units. It’s no secret that the city is broke.

"Building this scale of city-owned housing units, especially with a healthy mix of affordable housing included, will require billions of dollars of direct public investment, or some form of lease-back arrangement with developers.

"There is no way this much public development, especially affordable housing units, happens without serious sustained investments from the federal and provincial governments.

"Finally, the city must always keep front and centre that alongside building more housing the goal is to create thriving communities. We’ve been down the path before of building lots of housing in single-use areas that don't have a mix of amenities and seen the social and economic isolation that results.

"Incorporating public facilities and commercial spaces into the new housing buildings is an excellent way to achieve dual outcomes: providing desperately needed housing and creating great places for people to live.”

Chris Spoke – Partner, Spoke Developments

Chris Spoke – Partner, Spoke Developments
Chris Spoke, partner, Spoke Developments

“We recently saw the city liberalize land-use rules to allow for more multiplex development of up to four units. To achieve her goal of building 25,000 new rental units, Mayor Chow should take these measures further by making the following changes to the zoning bylaw:

  • no maximum heights lower than 13 metres (43 feet) anywhere;
  • no FSI or unit count limits anywhere;
  • and no front- or side-yard setback requirements anywhere.

"Further, the development charges exemption on four or fewer units in any building should be amended to be an exemption on development charges on the first 10 units in any building of any size. 

"Toronto has about 850,000 detached houses and another 250,000 semi-detached houses. Given these changes, might 5,000 be renovated or redeveloped in the short term to an average of six units?

"I think so and I think that's how we can quite easily, with very modest changes, get to our 25,000 new rental units.”

Mark Richardson – Technical Lead at HousingNowTO

Mark Richardson – Technical Lead at HousingNowTO
Mark Richardson, technical lead at HousingNowTO

“The three most important things about Mayor Chow’s new ‘Urgently Building More Affordable Homes’ policy is to note that these 25,000 new rental homes ‘approved by Council’ by December 2030 are:

  1. These 25,000 new rental homes are in addition to the 40,000 new affordable rental homes that council had already targeted under (former) Mayor (John) Tory. If this passes at city council next week, the new December 2030 target will be 65,000 total new homes 'approved by council' in the next 7.5 years.
  2. Measuring 'approved by council' as a target is kind of a meaningless number as council 'approves' lots of things on paper that never actually get to the building permit-issued stage. We would rather have the city measuring actual new rental apartment units delivery as their target – rather than a paper-based approval target. 
  3. Mayor Chow’s new additions to the 2030 targets includes 2,500 new units of 'Rent Geared to Income' (RGI) housing. The average tenant rent payment on a TCHC RGI apartment in 2022 was approximately $409 per month. Each new RGI unit will require a deep subsidy in the range of $24,000 per unit/per year in order to be viable. If the mayor wants to reach her target of 2,500 new units of RGI housing by December 2030 – that is a program that would require approximately $60 million per year in Year 1 rent subsidies and they would need to be indexed to inflation. By the end of 2040 – that annual subsidy on those RGI units is approximately $85 million.

"Our HousingNowTO volunteers are in full support of these targets and goals, but the targets need to measure actual rental apartment unit delivery, not council approvals – and the city needs to show a new funding and investment plan that will cover the hundreds of millions the city will allocate to these projects during this term of council.”

Andrew Joyner – Managing Director, Tricon Residential

Andrew Joyner – Managing Director, Tricon Residential
Andrew Joyner, managing director, Tricon Residential

“We are encouraged by the energy and commitment of Mayor Chow to get more rental housing built. Ultimately, rental housing is foundational to a well-functioning and livable city, and we need more of it, much more of it.

"A recent report by Urbanation highlighted that the GTA needs a staggering 300,000 new rental units in the next decade to meet demand.

"The city’s announcement that it proposes to build 25,000 rental homes is a positive step in the right direction. However, what is more important is that conditions exist where the private sector is a partner in delivering new purpose-built rental housing at scale given the extent to the supply gap.

"We need the barriers removed that are standing in the way – and that is the approximate 25 per cent of project budgets that come in the form of government levies, namely development charges paid to the city and HST paid to the provincial and federal governments. 

"As Toronto’s most active rental apartment developer, and partner of all three levels of government in large-scale market and affordable city-building projects, we are proud to be part of the solution to Toronto’s rental housing crisis and delivering housing that strengthens the social fabric of our city.

"We want to do more and the co-ordinated reduction of the significant government levies (DCs/HST), on the type of housing Toronto needs most, would unleash a much-needed rental housing supply response.

"These solutions are not new and bold, decisive and coordinated action is needed today.”

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