Proposal to force building more affordable housing falls short, advocates say

SAMANTHA BEATTIE, Staff Reporter
Tues., Jan. 23, 2018

Inclusionary zoning would allow municipalities to force developers to create affordable housing units. However, many city councillors and housing advocates say if the province keeps its draft legislation as is it will miss an opportunity.

A homeless shelter is the first place Fazanah Khair Mohammad, her husband and five children lived when they arrived in Canada from Tajikistan.

She said she was unable to find an affordable home in Toronto’s tight rental market until about a month later, when a friend helped the family of seven secure a two-bedroom apartment in East York for $1,200 a month.

That was about two years ago and the cramped quarters were supposed to be temporary, said Khair Mohammad, 36.

“My kids fight over the washroom. We only have one washroom,” she said.

But every three bedroom apartment she’s viewed in the last six months is “very expensive,” at least $1,900 a month, and in “very bad condition.”

Khair Mohammad, who said her family is now on a seven-year waiting list for affordable housing, joined ACORN Canada, an advocacy group for low-income families. She and a couple dozen other demonstrators protested the provincial government’s proposed inclusionary zoning regulations on Tuesday outside Minister of Housing Peter Milczyn’s office on Bay St.

Inclusionary zoning would allow municipalities to force developers to create affordable housing units. However, many city councillors and housing advocates say if the province keeps its draft legislation as is it will miss an opportunity to add thousands of affordable housing units in Toronto.

“This gets a failing grade as far as legislation is concerned,” said Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth). “Back to the drawing board please.”

Social Planning Toronto, a charity focused on social justice, equity and quality of life, released a new report this week comparing what Ontario is proposing to what hundreds of U.S. jurisdictions already have in place.

“As currently framed, Ontario’s (inclusionary zoning) regulations do not promote the creation of rental and deeply affordable units; in fact, they inhibit it,” the report says.

Under the draft legislation, cities like Toronto would be required to either exempt developers from funding community benefits, or pay developers 40 per cent of the cost of the affordable units.

But the Social Planning Toronto report suggests many U.S. inclusionary zoning programs do not aim to compensate developers for affordable housing. Instead, municipalities most commonly offer density bonuses, which results in not only more units, but more affordable units, the report says.

Ontario is proposing that developers would have to temporarily make 5 to 10 per cent of their building units affordable, but only if the building is a condominium, not purpose-built rentals, says the proposed legislation. The units would remain affordable for a minimum of 20 years, up to 30 years.

The majority of U.S. programs require more than 10 per cent of a development’s units to be affordable, and as much as 20 per cent, the report says. Many programs focus on rental housing, rather than home ownership, to ensure the units are affordable to low-income residents.

The report also says 80 per cent of U.S. jurisdictions require units remain affordable for a minimum of 30 years, if not forever.

Toronto is in a housing crisis and the province needs to come up with stronger inclusionary zoning regulations, said Acorn’s Alejandra Ruiz Vargas.

“People need to be vocal, express their feelings and concerns. We are not happy with it and we need to change it,” Ruiz said.

The province is accepting comments until Feb. 1. Council will vote on submitting comments at its meeting next week.

Link to article: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2018/01/23/proposal-to-force-building-more-affordable-housing-falls-short-advocates-say.html