Mayor John Tory’s $23-billion plan to build 40,000 new affordable housing units over the next 10 years is being called into question by housing advocates who say the city has been missing opportunities to maximize plans already in the works.
“It’s really hard to build affordable housing for a whole bunch of reasons, but one of the main ones is when the city does have land or it has opportunities available to it, it doesn’t always maximize those opportunities,” said Mark Richardson, technical lead of advocacy group HousingNewTO.
One of these sites is 140 Merton Street in the Davisville area. It’s a parking lot slated to become affordable seniors housing and a senior’s centre.
The initial plans called for a 15-storey building.
On Tuesday, the City’s Planning and Housing Committee approved a proposal to raise it to 17 floors, including a minimum of 50% affordable rental spaces. In an area surrounded by buildings 30 storeys or more, some say it could have easily been taller.
“If you can add more stories, let’s say 26 stories, which perfectly fit within […] the planning resumes and things that are happening in the area, there’s really an opportunity to add even more housing and even more community benefits, just by adding that density,” said Alexei Guerra an urban planner at Sweeny & Co. Architects.
He said at the current pace, it will be difficult for the City to meet its housing goals.
The city currently has 11 sites, totaling 55 acres of land, available to develop affordable housing under its “Housing Now” plan, with more locations expected next year. Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao leads the housing file at City Hall and said community needs have to be considered during the planning process.
“We rely on what we hear from professionals, planning experts, our planning department, our finance department and our housing secretariat,” said Bailao.
“It’s always a balancing act,” she added. “We represent all kinds of interests in a big city like ours and build a city that functions, and that is healthy socially, and that feels good physically when you’re walking through the streets, that feels right.”
Another property that has been the subject of debate for years is on Broadview Avenue just north of Danforth Avenue, near the subway. The property is currently occupied by a Green P parking lot and a one-storey convenience store. Nearby residents have fought the attempt to build a mid-rise building for seven years.
There is currently an eight-story building planned for the site, while much taller buildings have stood nearby for decades.
The housing committee adopted a motion on Tuesday to ask City staff to report to council about more options for maximizing the Broadview property. It will be considered by City Council on Dec. 17.
“Each additional floor gives us three or four more units of affordable housing but gives a developer nine or 10 more units of regular housing that they are able to sell,” he explained. “Everybody has to win in these scenarios.