Mayor John Tory has asked staff to draft a “housing action plan” that could bring about significant changes to existing zoning regulations, including permitting multiplexes on all residential lots and eliminating so-called exclusionary zoning policies that prohibit modest density in most residential neighbourhoods.
A motion that will be considered by city council next week asks that staff be directed to draft a plan that would allow the city to “achieve or exceed” a new provincial target calling for the construction of 285,000 new homes in Toronto over the next decade.
The motion stipulates that such a plan should focus in on 15 specific areas, including amending zoning laws to “increase density within neighbourhoods, creating “transition zones between commercial and residential areas” and “increasing zoning permissions on major streets.”
Tory is also asking staff to “revisit” the plans for the Port Lands and the waterfront to “ensure housing density is optimized” and to create a separate post-secondary housing strategy focused on “increasing the availability of student housing.”
Staff will also be urged to review the city’s “urban design guidelines, heritage standards and urban forestry policies” to ensure they align with the goal of expediting the delivery of new housing, according to the motion.
“These efforts are not intended to create towers on every corner, but to support new forms of housing that will support our diverse communities, create space in our city for both renters and owners, and foster the expansion of communities in a fashion that is both responsible and sustainable,” Tory said in a letter sent to members of city council. “We must move quickly to change city policies and advance new programs that will create new housing, be solutions-oriented, and demonstrate a strong commitment from council to deliver the reforms needed to increase new housing and prioritize the supply of affordable and market rental housing that our residents and newcomers desperately need.”
Tory says status quo not an option
Tory’s motion also includes a proposal to create a new bylaw which would create a regulatory framework to permit rooming houses city-wide. That, however, is being done outside of the housing action plan.
There are also a number of items suggested for further examination as part of the action plan, including the development of a new strategy to encourage the creation of housing on underutilized lands owned by school boards as well as another strategy to “to increase construction market capacity” through increased hiring and recruitment.
Speaking with reporters at a press conference on Friday afternoon, Tory conceded that gaining support for the breadth of changes outlined in his motion could be “challenging” but he said that “the notion that we can stick with the status quo and have the choice between single-family homes and 50-story towers” just isn’t realistic anymore.
Tory will also benefit from new powers which could allow him to pass certain bylaws with the support of only one-third of city council.
“There are going to be some challenging debates at city council about this, that is what it is for but I hope that most of them can get behind what we are trying to do here as being the sensible, rational responsible thing that can be done so we don’t impact in a negative way the wonderful neighbourhoods that make up this city but do recognize that exclusionary zoning and those kinds of things, their day has passed by,” he said.
Staff to report back in March
Tory’s motion gives staff until March to report back with a framework for the housing action plan, which will include “potential housing units that could be created” by each initiative.
The plan would still need to be approved by city council but is already being welcomed by a number of Tory allies, including Tory’s designated housing champion Beaches-East York Coun. Brad Bradford.
“We need to depart from convention, we need to stop doing what doesn’t work and we need to start doing new things,” Bradford said during Friday’s news conference. “The changes are not going to be easy, they are not going to be without controversy, they are not going to be without difficult conversations. But I want to be very clear: we are going to move forward. It is going to look different than what we have done because what we have been doing needs to change.”
In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) President Richard Lyall also welcomed Tory’s proposal, calling it “a once-in-a-generation change to housing policy” that contains
Ontario has given 29 municipalities targets to help build 1.5 million homes over next decade.