Posted July 18, 2018
Mayor John Tory says he’s open to the city redefining what is considered “affordable” housing amid criticism that hundreds of new units approved each year are only a dream for people struggling to make ends meet.
“The definition of affordability depends who you’re asking,” Tory acknowledged Tuesday. “As Toronto gets more expensive, it may be that we have to take a look at that.”
Tory’s comments come after a report released this month by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, urged the city to reconsider what’s “affordable.” They also come as Tory campaigns for re-election this fall; his lone policy pitch thus far on housing includes a promise to create a new target of 40,000 new affordable units over 12 years.
The city currently defines “affordable” units as those at or below average market rent. Those numbers are reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. based on currently occupied units (if units become vacant, landlords can charge whatever they want). In 2018, the average market rent for a one-bedroom was $1,202 a month and $1,426 for a two-bedroom unit.
A city analysis concludes that, at average market rent, a household would need to earn just over $52,000 before tax to keep its housing cost to 30 per cent of income, which is a well-established principle.
The latest census data from Statistics Canada shows 38 per cent of Toronto households, based on a sample, earn less than $50,000 annually before tax, and more than a third of all homeowners and renters are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter.
Don Collymore, a member of ACORN, rents a one-bedroom apartment in East York for $1,100 a month and said many people like him are struggling on a day-to-day basis.
“I’m at a point where I’m wondering how I can live in the city,” he said. “That’s just me. Imagine a family. Imagine a pensioner. Imagine someone that’s living on (the Ontario Disability Support Program).”
He said Tory and city councillors need to ask themselves what kind of city they want to build.
“This is becoming a city that looks good on an advertisement, on those marketing brochures for tourists,” he said. “If they are serious about affordable housing, let’s sit down and let’s have a conversation with the real groups that are on the ground.”
On Tuesday, Tory’s executive committee approved 606 new affordable rental units under the Open Door initiative, the mayor’s signature housing program, which provides land, forgives building and development fees, and provides tax relief to developers in exchanges for those rents.
Critics argue that Open Door provides breaks to landlords but little for tenants. Sean Gadon, the city’s affordable housing office director, told the Star that 10 per cent of residents who will live in the recently approved units will receive a housing allowance of an average $250 per month.
According to Urbanation Inc., which analyzes the Toronto condominium market, rents have continued to climb despite the total number of purpose-built rental units under construction reaching a 30-year high in the second quarter of 2018. The number of planned rentals, a release said, also grew to 37,403 units.
The Open Door program, which approved just over 1,200 new rental units last year, accounts for little of the growth. Last year, a Star analysis showed the city had failed to meet the target of creating 1,000 new affordable rental homes annually, with none of the Open Door units complete by October 2017. The program was launched in 2015.
When asked if his new, more ambitious target of building on average 3,300 affordable units annually would fare any better in practice, Tory acknowledged the build-out would take place over the span of that 12-year promise.
Councillor Josh Matlow, chair of the city’s tenant issues committee, whose St. Paul’s ward is 60 per cent renters, agrees there needs to be a change in the definition of affordability.
“The challenge for rental affordability isn’t focused on supply, it’s about the price,” he said, noting the Open Door program does nothing to solve that.
“It allows the mayor and city hall to boast that we’re doing something about affordable housing, but it doesn’t mean that it actually achieves that in reality.”
Article by Jennifer Pagliaro for the Toronto Star