Build Toronto Fails to Meet Affordable Housing Targets
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Build Toronto Fails to Meet Affordable Housing Targets

Five years ago, Build Toronto agreed to make land available to build 1,250 units of affordable housing. They built 12.

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In 2010, Build Toronto pledged to make enough land available to build 1,250 units of affordable housing. But the plan dramatically missed its mark. In the past five years, only 12 units of affordable housing have been completed, and 25 more are in the works.

A memorandum of understanding struck between the City of Toronto and Build Toronto in May 2010 laid out a plan to set aside real estate to construct 1,000 units of affordable rental housing and 250 units of affordable ownership housing [PDF]. Bill Bryck, the president and CEO of Build Toronto, an arms-length agency with the mandate to maximize the use of the City’s surplus real-estate assets, said while the goals have not been achieved, a new plan is being put into place.

It’s not clear how the target was missed so dramatically. Bryck said there was no “one reason” for the agreement not being met. Part of the issue may have been the departure of six directors that left the 13-member Build Toronto board in June 2013. What followed was a period of restructuring for the organization, as they appointed a new board and the current CEO.

The renewed interest in the agreement comes after Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) wrote a letter to the Affordable Housing Committee asking about the status of the project [PDF]. Layton said he first heard of the problem when he realized there was supposed to be a Build Toronto development in his ward that wasn’t getting built. He then decided to investigate and take a look at the agreement.

“So I tracked it down down—it wasn’t an easy document to track down—and found that the first condition of transfer of many properties to Build Toronto is that they satisfy this condition [of affordable housing],” he said.

At an Affordable Housing Committee meeting on March 9, Layton submitted a motion (AH 1.11) to review the project and its downfalls, and construct a future plan for meeting the targets laid out in the agreement. The motion passed, and the city manager will present a report on the subject at the next city council session, which begins March 31.

Sean Gadon, director of the Affordable Housing Office, said, “[D]espite the delay with the MOU being implemented, there’s a new energy at play at City Hall to see the MOU activated in a more direct way.”

He said that, in addition to the 12 units already built at 10 York Street and the 25 being constructed, another project including 10–12 units is likely to come forward this spring.

“It was acknowledged at the last meeting that there are improvements to be made and the agreement only began to get implemented,” he said.

While running for mayor, John Tory made a commitment to making more affordable housing available, and Gadon added that’s a major factor.

According to Gadon, many of the lands outlined in the agreement are not “shovel-ready.” Bryck echoed that sentiment, saying that because Build Toronto deals with surplus lands, there is a lengthy process in place to rezone them in order to maximize their value, and this process can take about 18 months.

“There clearly was not an intent not to try and fulfil that goal,” said Bryck, “but I believe there are many more actors at play now that have really motivated not only us, but those people who can deliver the housing, than there might have been five years ago.”

Bryck said there have been many conversations with other parties involved, including the Affordable Housing Office and Habitat for Humanity.

“I think we have improvements to make around incorporating affordable housing at the start of the land use development process, as opposed to it being an afterthought,” said Gadon.

Graphic by Jane Lytvynenko.

Build Toronto MOU