Location, location, location: Our panel explores why home is where the transit is
Peter MacLeod puts up a slide of a newspaper advertisement: "Acute housing shortage in Toronto, Ontario." The ad is from 1947 and the closing line is, "Do not come to Toronto, Ontario, for housing accommodation."
The city's gotten much more welcoming since 1947, but it still has a lot of work to do to solve its housing problems. With house prices up six per cent over 2010, rents averaging more than $1,400 and affordable housing waiting lists in excess of 83,000 households, finding an affordable place to live is still a struggle. Yonge Street
's June 19 panel, sponsored by the Toronto Community Foundation and moderated by MacLeod, grappled with the problems and how we can solve them.
For people on welfare, for example, "you end up homeless or starving, it's one way or the other, you can't have it both ways," said attendee Yvette Roberts of the group Young Parents, No Fixed Address
. Even for herself, "a single person with a decent income," Roberts says she's having a tough time buying a house in the GTA. "I'm looking at Owen Sound or Wiarton."
Everybody feels the pressure. Panelist Noorez Lalani, vice president of MOD Developments Inc
., talked about how developers are facing steeper and steeper land prices. While the Green Belt
has brought many benefits, it's increased the value of land inside the belt.
"It's a bit of a numbers game," said Lalani. "I'm trying to amortize my costs over as many units as possible." With developers considering smaller and smaller sites, buildings are getting higher and higher.
All those units do benefit city coffers, even beyond all that new property tax revenue. Developer charges and permits per unit are around $25,000, including mandatory contributions toward public art. But those developer fees aren't enough. Governments must not only put public money toward affordable housing, said Lalani, they must also make their expectations clear and the process straightforward.
"I'm a strong believer in the market," said Lalani. "We can work with government agencies but there must be some sort of subsidization process…. When the rules are laid out in the beginning, we're all ears."
Much of those developer fees are generated by the city's Section 37
, which allows developers to pay cash for increased height and density. Although that money is supposed to go toward community benefits, panelist Neil Hetherington, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Toronto
, suggested that affordable housing is not considered a community benefit, so that money does not ease the pressure.
There's also the question of where affordable units should go. Panelists agreed that mixed-income neighbourhoods are an imperative: "Societies and communities are a lot better when you have a mix of people," said Lalani. But one attendee said that recent efforts, like the Regent Park revitalization, have an emphasis on bringing higher income people into lower income areas rather than the reverse. Hetherington said it didn't make sense to put affordable units and market units in the same building because it highlights income differences.
"In a place like Trump Tower, affordable housing units aren't appropriate," said Hetherington. In some high-end projects, including affordable units doesn't result in true affordability. He cited a Bellair project he had worked on where the dedicated "affordable" units cost about $500,000 for 450-square-foot condos. It makes more sense, Hetherington suggested, that developer contributions be put toward affordable projects that could include government, non-profit and charitable contributions.
As it gets tougher and tougher to quickly and comfortably get around the GTA, access to transit is also a key factor; properties on key transit lines are more expensive than those that aren't. Which means our transportation crunch is also a housing crunch. While some attendees suggested that low-income people could find affordable housing outside the core if better transit was in place, others suggested that the core also needs to be affordable so people can be closer to their workplaces, thus taking the pressure off the transit systems.
Great neighbourhoods, of course, not only have a mix of incomes, but also a mix of ages and lifestyles so people can stay in the same neighbourhood through the many stages of their lives. Developers have come under fire for offering mostly smaller units, which appeal to single people and couples rather than families. They buy or rent their units for a few years, then move on without putting down roots. Lalani says the prices demanded by two- and three-bedroom units make them harder to sell; investor buyers are nervous about that risk. Still, some investors are starting to see the value in larger units, since a family renting a condo is likely to stay longer, reducing the maintenance costs.
"Investors and families are starting to look at [larger units] especially as rates start to go up," says Lalani.
Due to technical problems, panelist David Cowans, group chief executive of Places for People
, was unable to participate. He did talk to Metro Morning last month
about some of the solutions the UK is attempting.
The June 21 event was just the beginning. Our talkback session on affordable housing takes place July 19 at the same time and place: ING Café at 6:40pm (doors at 6:10pm). For all the details and to register, click here
Paul Gallant is
Yonge Street's managing editor.