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Housing

Kris Langenfeld, our new Toronto Mayor

Growth and planning

• A target of encouraging growth to be more evenly distributed across the city; More ►

A change to city planning processes to achieve better planned growth, throughout all Toronto neighbourhoods, to evenly and fairly distribute density increases over the city as a whole — this will move Toronto away from the apartment neighbourhood model, which has created pockets of extremely dense urban living interspersed into what is ‘the rest’ of the city.

Planning approval will instead encouraging medium density, low-rise and stacked residential, growth into existing low density neighbourhoods, with new high-rise development spread across all areas of the city, taking into consideration down-stream infrastructure capacity (water, sewage, transit, and roads), while avoiding drowning out the natural character of existing neighbourhoods as often happens when multiple high rise developments, built closely together, overshadow the existing personality of a community.  Less

• Co-ordinated infrastructure preparation to speed completion of approved construction projects and eliminate redundancy; More ►

Plan and zone for medium and high-density residential construction with upgrading of infrastructure (sewage, storm drain, water, electrical, transit) starting once zoning is approved so that construction can quickly follow — infrastructure work will be scheduled and co-ordinated between departments by a new, small, efficient city co-ordination unit within the planning department — with subsurface work organized to happen immediately before road repairs, avoiding the waste of newly resurfaced roads being subsequently torn up for infrastructure work;  Less

• Repair dysfunctional inspection and approval processes to address the crippling effect the backlog of city responsibilities has caused in new construction; More ►

Responsibility for inspecting and approving construction quality and adherence to code on new and renovation building projects will be reassigned, to be handled primarily by certified, licensed, insured architectural and engineering firms; city inspectors primary responsible there will be to verify and audit licensed inspection approvals of commercial sites.

City inspectors will continue to be responsible for conducting inspections of smaller/private new and renovation construction work.

Engineers and architects conducting and approving inspections will be responsible for private insurance sufficient to fully indemnify the city, developers, and homeowners for the lesser of 25 years or the life of the project.

Extensive public consultations with all affected parties will occur first.  Less

I will convene a mayor's taskforce on housing; it will have dual objectives: of determining recommendations to council on best city practices which can be applied to rectify excessive or inefficient bureaucratic requirements and restrictions, and to speed completion of residential construction projects to occupancy; and of setting city wide standards on stacked housing construction to ensure compliance with code, excellence in quality, and top efficiency in completion.

As laid out in my Finance and Fiscal Transparency platform, I will amend the Property Tax model to take resident density into consideration. In addition to those tax model changes, the details of the financial plan lay out a number of costs intended to financially incentivize developers to complete projects with reasonable diligence and penalize project delays related to market speculation.

Storm sewers/Climate change considerations

In addition to resuming proper maintenance of the sewer system, I will put through a Hard Surface property tax Surcharge to monetize storm water runoff, where the area of property that is hard surfaced, roofs, driveways, patios, etc, less the volume of water that is retained for slow/natural drainage into suitable open ground, determines a amount charged back to property owners to fund the upgrading of flood water mitigation systems, working towards a 20% increase in the long-term capacity of Toronto’s infrastructure to handle weather instabilities. Landowners can reduce/eliminate the surtax by modifying their landscaping and water retention systems, to offset storm water runoff from hard surfaces currently flowing into the storm sewer system, installing rain barrel, storm water retention ponds, in-lawn water retention berms, etc. A system, for example, capable of retaining up to 50% of a property's runoff in a once-in-twenty-years torrential rain event, would reduce by half the charges levied for the Hard Surface Surcharge tax.

Building housing

Developer built affordable/social housing

I will change the dynamic on affordable housing, requiring that all new multi-dwelling developments include some affordable housing. As part of obtaining building approval, developers will be required to design 5% – 10% of their units being affordable housing, which the city will administrate through social assistance programs. Developers will be expected to incorporate smaller/simpler/basic needs units into new home/condo planning/construction, social housing units which the city will, through monthly rental payments, reimburse developers costs (actual out-of-pocket costs, exclusive of financing, plus ongoing maintenance fees equivalent to those paid by, or incorporated into the rent of, other tenants) with the city's ultimate benefit being ownership of the unit. Social services will assign the most eligible recipients to these highly-prized properties, and any criminality or causing of disturbances by such subsidized residents will result in immediate relocation to less favourable accommodations. The goal will be both to increase the supply of available social housing and to support environments where people from varied social strata have the opportunity to thrive together.

City planning will give approval preference to development projects that offer a mixture of smaller/affordability-designed units within other mixed-class tenancy projects (i.e. a condominium project of 100 larger, more expensive, more opulently decorated units, interspersed with 100 smaller, more simply designed and decorated, more affordable units, plus 10 – 20 city funded units, would receive more favourable consideration when being compared to other projects offering less social diversification).

City built housing

Government is notoriously bad at constructing generally; as such, private developers and the free market are the primary players capable of satisfying Toronto’s affordable housing needs; but there are also areas where the city must take on the responsibilities of building to meet the needs of our population. This type of construction also needs to be fundamentally rethought.

Borrowing a page from Ian Gillespie’s affordable housing plan, building housing units on existing city-owned land operating as Green P parking lots, with construction of an equivalent number of extra pay/public parking spots in underground parking, incorporating reimagined flexible use housing design, will provide for social and homeless needs and address the current immigration crisis.

Flexibility in usage

By focusing on flexibility and needs, we can satisfy the requirements of Torontonians to ensure that all have safe, livable housing that taxpayers can afford to construct and maintain. The current demand, of housing for the influx of immigrants coming from the US, can be expected to change in the next two to six years once Donald Trump’s presidency ends and American immigration policies likely swing back towards former norms; although presupposing how quickly and to what extent American policy will change would be a fool's errand. We need housing solutions with the flexibility to allow repurposing between medium to long-term social assistance recipients, short term refugee housing, or addressing long-term homelessness issues.

In all cases, how to satisfy these needs must be re-evaluated in light of today’s realities. Currently, some middle-class renters and homeowners actually pay to provide social housing for others that exceeds the standards that those taxpayers footing the bill themselves live in. Many supporting themselves and living in small one-bedroom and single-room bachelor apartment style units are responsible for funding those actually living in larger subsidized residences; a revisiting of what are appropriate design expectations for subsidized housing is necessary.

Rethinking design

Units must be designed such that, when the need is for family residences, as is currently the case with the immigrant influx via the US, units are useful for a single family needing shorter-term residency, while those living there find employment and a long-term home. When that particular type of need hopefully diminishes, resultant of reduced global displacement and Canadian refugee immigration, the design of those same units must allow for them to be used as shared accommodation residency — longer-term arrangements where singles or couples share kitchen, common area, and bathroom facilities while having private rooms supporting affordable subsidized living.

As they become older, existing, larger subsidized housing units become less desirable simply by virtue of their age; even when properly maintained, which many TCHC units presently are not, newer replacement housing will be sought by many. Those desiring residency in the newer buildings will have to accept nominally smaller units while those choosing to live in larger units, with more traditional large common areas within the unit, will have to accept living in buildings more dated in their design and amenities and deal with more maintenance obligations.

Projects for new city-owned subsidized housing complexes will also have to include more mixed-use residential/light commercial design to allow increasing local population density without the need to proportionally increase light commercial zoning and construction. Convenience stores, small restaurants, service companies, satellite government offices, etc will be part of plans receiving approval, encouraging local employment and minimizing some need for private vehicles and public transit use.