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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.

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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.


  • OgtheDim

    “…a“decentralized, tenant- and community-driven approach” to governance in public housing…”

    You know, its good to have community oversight.

    And the “we are helping you, so take what we give you” TCHC management approach really stinks, with its built in laziness and emphasis on maintaining stability over getting anything actually fixed.

    But, decentralised governance is going to cost more, and take even longer to get decisions made.

    I hope we do not see more of the “all these institutions should be governed in the same way” approach that I heard in the Miller days.

    • torontothegreat

      Explain to me what YOU think she means by “decentralised governance”?
      /methinks you are misinformed.

      Improve governance in public housing by establishing a pilot project to allow a more decentralized, tenant- and community-driven approach. The pilot project would focus on specialized seniors’ housing, which she proposes be managed by a stakeholder-governed Seniors’ Community Public Housing Corporation.

      If the pilot proves successful, she would look at empowering residents and communities elsewhere in the public housing system. This would reduce TCHC management costs, freeing up funds for maintenance and repairs.

      Source: Red link in article (

      • OgtheDim

        I think it means what we’ve seen before under Miller. Lots of interaction, but with the boundaries of the discussion being set by staff.

        I can’t tell you how many meetings I went to where stuff happened like this:

        City Staff: “Ok, tell us what you think of x.y & z issues you have.”

        Residents: “Well, actually we have another issue that is important to us”

        Staff: “Good to know. And what do you think of x, y and z”

        Saints preserve us from people who think they know what people in communities are dealing with.

        I see nothing from Chow that indicates her people (many of whom worked with Miller) have moved towards listening without an agenda.

        That and a process that works in a Senior’s situation does not mean said process would work in other situations. If they are going to trial a governance idea, they should pick 3-4 different demographic situations. To me, they’ve cherry picked the easier trial situation that will fit their approach.

        I remain uncovinced that those who worked under Miller have learned from what caused many people in the inner suburbs to turn away from him. “Don’t tell us what we need. Listen and then work with us to fix our needs”. There is a reason why Ford won most 2010 polls in inner suburb TCHC buildings, and it wasn’t because of him visiting there and handing out fridge magnets.

        There is a significant danger that Chow’s people see Ford’s election as an interregnum. I think Chow is smarter then that, but I wonder about those who are working for/with her.

        • torontothegreat

          But Senior’s wouldn’t be dictating others’ situations, Chow isn’t Miller, ideas progress (we learn from our failures), and I’m not even sure what “Chow’s People” (many of who worked for Miller) means as she hasn’t really announced who her “people” would be in governance.

          It’s clear you’re just a partisan hack that tries to inject cynicism into the conversation whenever Chow speaks.

  • m_ax

    Good for Olivia Chow for releasing a housing platform. A guest on Metro Morning today pointed out that this is one of the most critical issues facing Toronto, and as far as I know Olivia is the only one among the mainstream candidates who has yet to put forward a plan.

    The first plank, offering a development charge deferral on affordable (I assume rental) units probably isn’t enough of an incentive for developers to build them. At the end of the day their pro forma has to balance and optional programs like this aren’t going to hit her 20% target. What I think she would end up pushing for is inclusionary zoning, which is used in other jurisdictions and makes the building of affordable units mandatory in large developments. It’s not a perfect tool despite what some housing advocates say.

    The City can already negotiate for affordable rental units in new condos using Section 37 of the Planning Act. It’s not widely used for housing yet because there’s a slew of eligible and competing community benefits under that policy. As I understand it under the new Development Permit System being debated at Council next week, the City can ask for housing units as a condition of approval for a development permit/ Much like Section 37, it’s up to planning staff and the councillor; unfortunately the politicians and their constituents don’t often see affordable housing as a benefit to the community.

  • eternaloptimist1971

    About time one of the contenders started talking about one of the elephants in the room. Not like this issue is going to go away either.

  • nevilleross

    If memory serves, I once heard of a city out west that has a particularly left-wing city council that has forced developers to build condos the way they want it built (with enough social housing units in an apartment for those that are in need of it.) Maybe we need that kind of gutsy council here.