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Olivia Chow Unveils Affordable Housing Plan

With Toronto mired in a housing crisis, the proposal is a step in the right direction.

olivia chow 1

Thus far, mayoral candidate Olivia Chow’s policy proposals have been largely of the vague, noncommittal variety, but today she finally released a detailed plan for dealing with Toronto’s affordable housing crisis.

The first component of Chow’s tripartite plan consists of increasing mixed-income development by ensuring that 20 per cent of apartments in new residential towers are affordable to low-income renters. She claims the provision will create 15,000 affordable rental units over four years. Development charges for these units would be deferred for 10 years, with the deferral to be renewed if they remain affordable.

Chow says she also wants to improve many of the city’s 1,200 existing residential towers by removing zoning restrictions that debar businesses and community spaces from operating around them. These changes would be fast-tracked. In the long term, Chow says she would review zoning rules to allow for more, and more attractive, density (which, given the blandness that characterizes much of Toronto’s recent residential development, would be most welcome).

Finally, the plan calls for a “decentralized, tenant- and community-driven approach” to governance in public housing, aimed at reducing the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s management costs—savings that could in turn be put toward maintenance and repairs.

Implementing Chow’s proposal would a good first step, but it cannot be the last. Toronto’s housing crisis is dire. The City’s housing capital repair backlog currently sits at $864 million. It’s grown from $644 million just three years ago, and will continue to grow—within 10 years, it will exceed $3.5 billion. If those repairs are not made, TCHC may have no choice but to evict some residents from their homes, as city manager Joe Pennachetti suggested during a speech in May at the University of Toronto’s municipal finance and governance institute. Already there are more than 90,000 Toronto households on the waiting list for subsidized housing units—that’s more than the number of people who live in TCHC housing right now—and they can expect to keep waiting, for eight to 10 years on average.

Any attempt to address these issues will require significant funding from other levels of government, and will require it soon.

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