TORONTO – Toronto’s lack of affordable housing is a pressing problem that should receive some immediate attention from both the provincial and federal governments, the city’s newly re-elected mayor said Wednesday.
John Tory cited housing as one of the top priorities for his new term during his first news conference since cruising to victory in Monday’s municipal election.
Tory said that while the city has identified several parcels of land that can be freed up for construction of new housing units, he said both the province and the feds can follow suit.
“People made it clear that they want to see their governments working together to bring on these changes now … to expedite the increase in the supply of affordable rental housing,” Tory said at the news conference. “These are times that require swift action.”
Tory said assistance from higher orders of government would help him fulfil a pre-campaign pledge of building 40,000 affordable units over the next 12 years, adding he plans to make formal requests to the province and Ottawa in the near future.
Relations between the province and the city were strained after Premier Doug Ford slashed the size of Toronto’s council in the middle of the municipal election campaign.
The move triggered a complex court battle, with one judge ruling Ford’s plan unconstitutional and the premier vowing to use a rarely invoked constitutional provision known as the notwithstanding clause to ensure his vision of a 25-member council went ahead. Invoking the clause became unnecessary after an appeal court stayed the lower-court decision.
Now that the municipal campaign is over, Tory expressed optimism that he could work effectively with Ford.
He said he and the premier, who came second to Tory in the city’s 2014 mayoral contest, share many of the same priorities. In addition to housing, Tory named transit construction and community safety as areas of pressing concern.
“When it comes to economic growth and the attraction of jobs and investment, when it comes to the necessity to continue to build much more transit, when it comes to the supply of affordable housing, I think we will be on the same page in terms of the need to do those things,” he said.
“I’ll be looking for a positive outcome to those things as opposed to assuming that there’s going to be any kind of bad relationship or negative start.”
A spokeswoman for the provincial body responsible for fielding Tory’s request said the province “is aware of the concerns about the affordability of housing,” as well as concerns that supply has not kept up with demand.
“This is why we have committed to cut red tape and reduce approval timelines to increase supply and bring housing to the market faster,” Rachel Widakdo with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement.
“We need to clear the regulatory burden so that we can build a range of housing options that more people can afford,” Widakdo said, citing a plan to build more than 2,000 purpose-built rental units in Toronto.
“The government is considering how best to leverage additional surplus lands for housing in the future. We want to make sure that we are using our surplus land in a way that will get value for tax payers and support affordable housing.”
The federal body responsible for fielding Tory’s affordable housing request did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Tory said he also plans to co-ordinate a meeting with fellow mayors from across the Greater Toronto Area in the first two months of 2019 to see if they can find ways to collaborate on the housing, transit and safety, issues he said are at play in all surrounding communities.
Tory’s second term as mayor officially gets underway on Dec. 1, when the new council will also be sworn in.