Affordable housing concerns raised over Toronto’s Galleria mall redevelopment

The Green Line's Anita Li looks at the issues surrounding the redevelopment of several malls in the GTA, including the Galleria Shopping Centre that is being turned into a "master planned community."

By Anita Li

Malls have been the centre of social life for Torontonians growing up, especially for those living in the suburbs. But today, many of those malls are being redeveloped and that’s leading to a hot debate about what they should be turned into.

Malls across Toronto like Malvern Town Centre, Agincourt Mall and the Galleria Shopping Centre are all undergoing redevelopment.

In the neighbourhood of Wallace Emerson – situated north of Bloor Street Street in between the Junction Triangle and Dovercourt Park – the Galleria is being replaced by what’s called a “master planned community.”

A “master planned community” is a set of condos with retail, public spaces and other amenities on the ground level.

Namaa Blonder, an urban planner, believes that these type of condo developments are the future of living in Toronto in a city that’s only growing in population.

“In almost every master planned community, you will have an onsite park and playground, a place for you to sit and walk. But other examples could include a daycare or a community hub, a library. Think about anything that would be the bones of any great community, you can find the opportunity to have in a master planned community,” Blonder said.

In Toronto, there’s a condo on every corner and seeing your local mall get replaced by such a development can feel a like a loss.

However, Blonder said it is ultimately up to community members to make the most of their “master planned community.”

“With a master planned community, I wish that I would see more communities and more members of the public coming in and say what they really want to see, what are they missing, what is their grand vision,” she said.

“Unfortunately, as someone in the industry I can tell you that the majority of the discussion is height, height, height, height. And I always say, a two or three additional storey won’t be that of a big deal on your day.”

However, there are concerns over who gets to live in the communities, in particular, Torontonians who are being priced out of the housing market.

According to the City of Toronto’s 2019 housing market analysis report, 87 per cent of households in the private rental market with incomes of less than $30,000 spend more than 30 per cent of their incomes on shelter.

However, the rental market is becoming more expensive, with rent for condo units growing by 25 per cent from 2006 to 2017.

“The market is never going to produce the supportive, deep affordable housing that we need to deal with people, for example, that make $15,000 a year, which is the average household income for our Toronto community housing,” said Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, who is also the city councillor for the ward covering Wallace Emerson, as well as the chair of the city’s planning and housing committee.

Bailão believes there needs to be more purpose-built rental housing for low-income Torontonians.

For its part, the Galleria redevelopment will include 150 units of affordable housing, which came about as a result of community consultations.

“We completed over 40 public consultations with the neighbourhood, local businesses, residents, parents, elders, seniors, and made sure we understand what’s important to them,” said Dror Duchovny, the Chief Operating Officer of Almadev, a development company.

Many condo developments in Toronto don’t prioritize affordable housing because it is not profitable and the community doesn’t ask for it.

Bailão said this is why both government and the market need to pitch in.

“You are not going to fund your way out of his and you’re not going to build your way out of this. You need both because the market is never going to produce the supportive, deep affordable housing that we need,” she said.

“Governments need to invest and governments need to be innovative, and really their zoning laws, support innovation in the industry, deal with labour shortage issues, all these things need to happen. We need both of these actions to be taken.”

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