Affordable housing will be a key focus for Mayor John Tory should he win a second term, he announced on Monday, prompting swift reaction from those hoping for more action on the city's housing crisis.
"We need people to be able to afford to live in this city," said Tory, during campaign-style remarks to the Scarborough Business Association a week before the official start of the municipal election campaign. Tory gave his address hours before a deadly attack on Yonge Street left 10 people dead and injured 15 others.
In the speech, Tory announced several pillars of his "affordable housing action plan," such as increasing the city's targets for the creation of affordable housing — with a focus on rentals.
As CBC Toronto reported in No Fixed Address, a 2017 series on the city's rental crunch, the condo-apartment vacancy rate that year was just one per cent — the lowest in seven years — while rents for both one-bedroom apartments and condo units were roughly $1700 on average.
Since then, the numbers have gone up, with the average rent for a one-bedroom unit hitting more than $2000 in 2018.
While rents have been rising along with the city's population, the number of affordable units hasn't kept pace. Since 2009, the city's goal has been to approve 1000 affordable units on an annual basis — but the city only hit that target for the first time last year.
Housing issues must be 'tackled with urgency'
Tory said creating more affordable housing and rental units is an issue that must be "tackled with urgency," with a focus on including development projects along transit lines and around planned transit network expansions.
Jan De Silva, president and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, believes building new homes near transit is crucial and welcomed Tory's housing plan to combat the "chronic shortage of housing for young professionals."
Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"So far the announcements are encouraging, although vague and lacking in detail," said Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam.
The mayor has long talked about Toronto's housing issues, she added. "What we really need to see are actions and tangible results," Wong-Tam said.
Since little affordable housing has been built in Toronto over the last decade, Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, is also hoping for more specifics on how that situation could change.
"There are a huge number of tools in the toolbox if the City of Toronto wants to do this, but I guess that has yet to be seen in terms of the devil being in the details," Dent said.
Mayor aims to create standing committee on housing
If he is re-elected again in October, Tory said he plans to use the city's consolidated real estate body, CreateTO — which recently replaced multiple city real estate departments — to purchase sites that could be used for housing purposes across the city.
The mayor also announced his goal to create a standing committee on housing at city hall and restructure city resources to increase co-ordination among city staff.
"Neither of them involve adding people at city hall," Tory said. "What they involve is making better use of people."
In a statement, the city's housing advocate, Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, said this would mean a "centralized approach."
But Dent questioned how much this would differ from the city's current affordable housing committee, chaired by Bailao, which oversees Toronto's affordable housing office and currently facilitates the city's 10-year affordable housing plan.
In a release, the mayor's office said more details on Tory's plan will be rolled out in the weeks and months.