What you need to know about Toronto's new housing plan — and how it might affect your options
Motion calling on staff to draft 2023 'housing action plan' goes to city council Wednesday
Toronto's mayor announced a sweeping plan last week to help tackle the city's affordability crisis by building a larger range of housing types — a move that experts and advocates are calling a "step in the right direction."
Mayor John Tory called on city staff in a report on Friday to draft a "housing action plan" that could see major changes to zoning bylaws, including allowing the building of multiplexes on all residential lots and legalizing rooming houses.
- Do you have questions about the city's new housing plan? Or do you see angles you want to see CBC Toronto cover? Email us with your thoughts here.
The motion will go to city council on Wednesday at what will be one of the most important meetings of this year. Here is a breakdown of the report:
What is Toronto's target?
The Ford government's housing plan set the target for Toronto: 285,000 new homes in the next decade.
On Friday, Tory said he wants to "achieve or exceed" the province's goal.
"It's going to be hard," said Rocky Petkov, a volunteer with More Neighbours Toronto, an advocacy group aiming to tackle the long-term political, social, and economic consequences of unaffordable housing.
"There are real concerns; there is only so much construction labour and construction material. This is something that will take time … It is not going to be overnight. However, I do think it's possible."
Where does Tory stand on this?
Tory campaigned on a plan to introduce far more types of housing in the city.
In a letter to council backing these reforms, Tory writes: "Voters in the last municipal election provided a mandate to me and to this council to make bold moves on housing."
In a motion to council, Tory asked staff to review the plans for the Port Lands and the waterfront to "ensure housing density is optimized" and to create a separate post-secondary strategy focused on "increasing the availability of student housing."
"This plan will bring our city into the 21st century by removing the exclusionary zoning that has focused growth in just a few areas of the city, and prevented Torontonians from having housing choices," Tory told reporters Friday.
Staff are also urged to review urban design guidelines, heritage standards and urban forestry policies to help meet the target goal of building the new housing, according to the motion.
"More needs to be done," Tory said.
"We know that we as a city government need to take a more aggressive approach to addressing the acute affordability and housing crises facing our city."
Coun. Brad Bradford, chair of the planning and housing committee, said the housing plan will create a more equitable city "where everyone has the dignity of a roof over their heads, where there are affordable options for those here now and those who will call Toronto home in the future.
"To get there, it's abundantly clear that the status quo approaches that have reigned supreme on housing for many years are no longer viable," said Bradford, who represents Ward 19, Beaches-East York.
With Tory's enhanced "strong mayor" powers, he can pass these new rules with just one third of council's support at Wednesday's meeting.
What does this new level of housing look like?
If approved and put into action, this plan would see Toronto's housing makeup change significantly in the coming years.
You would see:
- More so-called "gentle density" in neighbourhoods, meaning multiplex housing would pop up in areas that are currently zoned only for single-family homes.
- Rooming houses legalized throughout the city. Currently, they are only legal in certain parts.
Expanding the variety of home options in addition to building more homes is something that housing advocates like Petkov have been urging.
In April 2021, Diogo Pinto bought a three-bedroom detached house in Scarborough with his partner after searching for a larger space to allow them to work from home. At the time, he said it wasn't what the couple was looking for.
"We found we had no choice other than buying a tiny condo for way too much money or a big house for way too much money," Pinto said.
"[This] would open up housing options for people like me who are trying to break into the housing market who have not yet."
With this new plan, Pinto said he hopes there is variability in the type of units available "so we're not stuck between buying a tiny one or two-bedroom condo or a big house in the suburbs."
The city is also vowing to streamline its "housing delivery system," which in theory should reduce the hurdles faced by builders and developers.
What doesn't it look like?
Tory, in a letter to council, writes: "These efforts are not intended to create towers on every corner."
Construction is everywhere you look in Toronto, but cranes in the sky don't necessarily equate to more affordable housing being built.
Part of the city's housing plan calls for the development of a "publicly available database to track affordable rental units approved, under construction and built."
Speaking of affordable housing, the city is also vowing to update its Open Door program, which launched in 2016 with the goal of building 40,000 affordable housing units by 2030.
Mark Richardson, a housing advocate, says the move to revisit the Open Door program is the right one to make.
Richardson leads HousingNowTO, a grassroots group that has long called for more density and a higher percentage of affordable units across the city.
"We think it's the right kind of program," Richardson told CBC Toronto.
"It removes the property taxes and development charges on affordable housing units and it's one of the ways that the city can put its own money where its mouth is on delivering affordable housing at speed and at scale in Toronto."
The organization wrote a letter to city council following the Friday announcement urging it to adopt the motion.
The report also asks staff to explore legalizing multi-tenant housing, also known as rooming houses, by March 2024.
Tory said this is separate from his proposed 2023 Housing Action Plan, but it is in the report that was presented to council. This would be Tory's second attempt at pushing this change after it was previously deferred because it did not receive enough support from council.
Some housing experts have urged the city to legalize these types of home to allow for more capacity in the housing market, though Tory has previously said these types of homes have left the city with a "flood of complaints."
Murtaza Haider, a professor of data science and real estate management at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the move to support rooming houses in the city is a "step in the right direction," but the criteria for these types of homes are still unclear.
"A very large segment of the city's working population does not earn enough to pay the market rents so you need creative solutions," Haider said.
"Rooming houses provide us with an opportunity for people to have a reasonable, secure and safe and reliable shelter by sharing the dwelling."
Petkov, of More Neighbours Toronto, agreed rooming house options are crucial to addressing housing affordability.
"These are some of the last affordable market-rate housing units in the city," he said.
"They've never really been legal in Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, the places that have been amalgamated.They're completely unregulated, which means the worst kinds of unscrupulous people run these things."
This time, Tory said the city would need to hire more inspectors to regulate rooming houses, in addition to a public-education campaign to address concerns.
What advocates think the plan misses
Petkov said while the plan addresses other issues related to unaffordable housing in the city, it fails to mention emergency, transition or supportive housing.
"It's all well and good to work on these market-side reforms, but a housing plan also needs to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents, our unhoused," he said.
"This is the sort of thing that if not in this push, we need to see in another push because if middle class folks might find it hard to wait five years for this to have an impact, the unhoused certainly cannot."
When does the public see action on this?
Like most things at city hall, this is a process.
If city council approves the plan, city staff will have until March 2023 to bring a report to Tory's executive committee about how to put everything into action.
With files from Patrick Swadden