affordable-housing-regent-park-toronto Photo: The City of Toronto/Flickr

This week’s announcement of new legislation that would let municipalities mandate affordable housing in new residential developments has received support from Toronto’s chief planner but left some provincial building industry groups raising concerns.

“We’ve been in fact requesting this power for some time so it was a welcome announcement,” Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner, tells BuzzBuzzHome News.

On Monday, Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, announced the legislation as part of the province’s updated long-term affordable housing strategy, but it is still unclear exactly what it will look like when it is tabled.

“We don’t have any specific details at the moment, but that will be forthcoming very soon, we hope,” McMeekin, also MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, said at Monday’s news conference.

Following the provincial announcement, development industry groups RESCON and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) released statements questioning the effectiveness of such legislation.

“Requiring free housing units as part of a new community approval is just another way to have new neighbours cover the bill as the cost of their own home goes up to pay for these new units,” said Joe Vaccaro, OHBA’s CEO, in one of the statements.

Addressing Vaccaro’s statement, Keesmaat says, “I think that if we’re going to advance affordable housing in this province we need to have an honest conversation, and inclusionary zoning is not free housing and that is a very, very misleading statement. It’s not free housing. It’s housing that’s at a more affordable price point.”

Keesmaat says there are already models for inclusionary zoning at work in Toronto. “It is important to note that we currently negotiate this on a site-by-site basis, so this isn’t rocket science,” she says, noting she is speaking directly to Toronto and that challenges among different municipalities vary.

The City can negotiate the inclusion of affordable housing through Section 37, an Ontario Planning Act provision. Through Section 37 the City can ask for concessions like below-market units in exchange for allowing a developer to build at a height or density exceeding what a site may be zoned for.

The chief planner also points to the city’s large sites policy. When builders seek to increase density or height on a site greater than five hectares, they must set aside 20 per cent of the additional units for affordable housing.

“The challenge is we currently have some pretty small sites that we’re putting a lot of density on, so the large sites policy is a little bit outdated, because it really reflects a time when we didn’t have the kinds of densities that we’re getting on singular sites,” Keesmaat explains. “We’re updating that policy but inclusionary zoning would be a way to make that regulatory.”

Keesmaat said the City of Toronto would like to see flexible legislation that lets municipalities implement their own zoning rules. “Toronto isn’t London, Ontario,” she says. “We have a very different housing market, different demands, and different needs.”

She also says it’s important that inclusionary zoning not be subject to developer appeals through the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). “Make the municipal powers real… otherwise we’ll simply spend more time at the OMB with little or not affordable housing to show for it,” adds Keesmaat.

OHBA’s statement referenced inclusionary zoning policies in New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, DC, where it says there are a variety of financial and planning incentives for developers have been rolled out with inclusionary zoning policies.

“If governments are serious about making housing more affordable, then the new power cannot be an add on to existing Section 37, development charges, parkland fees and outdated parking and zoning standards,” Vaccaro’s statement continued.

Keesmaat says it “goes without saying” that “there will be other mechanisms and tools alongside inclusionary zoning to ensure project viability.”

Councillor Ana Bailão, who is also chair of the City’s Affordable Housing Committee, says, “It is really important that we do this carefully and we do this well, that we understand the impact that it is but also the opportunities that it creates.”

“The reality is that this can create the opportunity to have thousands of new units online and more importantly the opportunity to create mixed-income communities and to maintain the affordability in some areas,” she says.

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