Toronto

Jennifer Keesmaat puts ambitious affordable rental housing target at heart of mayoral campaign

Jennifer Keesmaat is vowing to build 100,000 affordable rental housing units in Toronto over the next decade, while criticizing Mayor John Tory's housing plans as the status quo.

Current mayor has taken 'timid' approach as renters struggle to afford homes, Keesmaat says

Jennifer Keesmaat said if elected mayor, she will build 100,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. (CBC)

Jennifer Keesmaat is vowing to build 100,000 affordable rental housing units in Toronto over the next decade, while criticizing Mayor John Tory's housing plans as the status quo.

The former chief planner and last-minute entrance into this fall's mayoral race made that announcement at a Tuesday morning campaign event on the rooftop of a downtown co-op building. At one point, Keesmaat posed a question to the 47 per cent of Torontonians who rent their homes.

"In the last four years, under John Tory, has housing affordability gotten better for your family? Or worse?" said Keesmaat.

Many people, she noted, aren't even able to rent in the city anymore, and after being "shut out" of Toronto's skyrocketing real estate market, they're instead taking their talents elsewhere. 

Earlier this year, a city report found rent prices in purpose-built rental units have soared to a 15-year high, while vacancy rates are now the lowest they've been in 16 years. Meanwhile, tens of thousands remain on a wait list for social housing, while some community groups have warned the city's very definition of "affordable housing" — at or below the average market rent — needs to change.

Keesmaat said the city is now at a "crisis point" when it comes to this issue.

The plan to build 100,000 new units hinges on unlocking city-owned land to build on, while also using funding from the federal government's national housing strategy to build and subsidize purpose-built rental buildings.

She said her team will release the costs of the plan in the coming weeks.

Tory says he has proven record on housing

Keesmaat also took some shots at Tory, saying renters need change at city hall and accusing the mayor of taking a "timid" and "reactive" approach to developing affordable housing.

"Mr. Tory has failed to use the tools available to him to build more purpose-built rental," she said.

"With a city as great as Toronto, this isn't good enough."

Tory's campaign fired back, issuing a statement saying he's the only candidate with a record of actually building affordable housing, citing the approval of some 4,000 units during the past four years.

"I'm determined to do everything we can to build more affordable housing in Toronto and we need to do it much faster," Tory said in a statement.

"I'm proud of the progress we have made this term approving and building affordable housing and we're just getting started."

The statement points out that during Keesmaat's brief stint with an organization focused on build affordable housing in Toronto and Vancouver, no projects were approved.

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