A better way to get the housing mix Toronto needs

October 29, 2019
Toronto Star Editorial Board

Two aging Toronto Community Housing buildings are being demolished to make way for new and improved social housing units, rentals and condominiums.

The new buildings aren’t up and the old ones haven’t even been torn down yet, but this project is already a big success.

The redevelopment in east-end Toronto isn’t just important for the families living in the 120 TCH apartments, who will have the opportunity to live in better homes, but for the city as a whole.

That’s because the original plan called for replacing the social housing units and building an additional 500 condos to help pay for the redevelopment on Queen St. E. near Coxwell Ave. As usual, there would have been nothing to serve the middle of the housing market.

Thankfully, the city and local councillor Paula Fletcher fought for, and succeeded in getting, a greater mix of housing.

Toronto is long past the stage where all the city needs is social housing for the poorest among us plus expensive condos and houses for those who can afford to buy them.

The city has a broad affordable housing crisis and a shortage of rental housing so severe that the business community is warning it risks impeding economic growth.

That’s why this project is just the kind of development the city needs. It will replace the 120 social housing units and add 180 market-priced rentals, 100 more affordable rentals and 350 condos.

Toronto city council has long been criticized for failing to use its most valuable asset — land — to get the mix of housing that is so desperately needed.

So it’s welcome to see that is starting to change.

The city’s Open Door program seeks to fast-track the creation of affordable housing.

Toronto recently set aside parcels of city-owned land to produce rental housing rather than selling it off to the highest bidder, which would all but ensure that nothing but high-priced condos gets built.

And the Queen and Coxwell development is the first time the city has included all kinds of housing in one project — from social housing to market rentals to privately owned homes.

It wasn’t easy. Negotiations with developers rarely are and it was no exception when TCH reached a deal with Context Development Inc. Fletcher says it took time to “change the conversation” about the range of housing the city expected to see in this project.

It’s worth the time and effort to get something this important right.

Beyond the success of getting rentals included, this project is part of the equally important and ongoing recognition that housing for a range of incomes is the best way forward whenever a housing complex is redeveloped.

The dramatic overhaul of Regent Park, the largest of these revitalization projects, demonstrates what an important difference it makes.

What was once a closed-off community known for crime and poverty is now a mixed-income neighbourhood that’s as welcoming as any other in the city.

It’s home to a public pool, athletic grounds, cultural centre and retail shops, including a FreshCo grocery store, Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart and Royal Bank — none of which was there before.

Toronto’s future economic success rests in part on making sure that everyone, from service workers to young professionals to working families, can find a home here. And that won’t happen if we only produce housing on either end of the income extremes, with nothing in the middle.

Mixed communities full of renters and owners with a range of incomes is what will serve Toronto best.

Those are the key principles the city needs to keep at the forefront of its housing policies from here on in.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2019/10/29/a-better-way-to-get-the-housing-mix-toronto-needs.html