Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has vowed to build 100,000 “truly affordable, high-quality” housing units within the next 10 years if elected in October.

In the former chief city planner’s first announcement of the election campaign, Keesmaat outlined her plan to improve housing affordability in Toronto and took aim at Mayor John Tory’s record on the subject.

She accused Tory of failing to “use the tools available to him” when it comes to constructing purpose-built rentals in the city.

“He sat on one of North America’s largest real estate portfolios. He could have used it to build more high quality, purpose-built rentals that you can raise your family in. With a city as great as Toronto, this just isn’t good enough,” Keesmaat told reporters at a news conference at the Charles Hastings Co-Op downtown.

She noted that the average rents of purpose-built rentals have increased by almost 20 per cent in the last five years and the average rents of condos grew by 50 per cent between 2012 and 2017. 

“An estimated quarter of a million Torontonians can barely make monthly rent. Almost half are spending more than 30 per cent of their household income on rent. For the first time, Toronto has surpassed Vancouver as the Canadian city with the highest rents,” she added.

“To improve affordability for renters, we need change at city hall. Instead of being timid and reactive, we need to be bold and we need to be proactive. I believe that the issue of affordability is too important to ignore for another four years.”

Keesmaat’s plan includes a commitment to unlock city lands to build more affordable housing units and use the National Housing Strategy funds to build more purpose-built rental housing.

“This election is about the kind of city we want both for ourselves but also for future generations,” she said. “It is really a choice. It is a choice between taking on the challenges that we face in our city with bold and decisive leadership, or continuing to nibble around the edges, kind of waiting for something to happen, waiting for something to get done." 

In a news release issued Tuesday, Tory’s campaign defended his record on building new affordable housing, pointing to the 4,000 new affordable housing units that council approved in his four-year tenure.

“I'm determined to do everything we can to build more affordable housing in Toronto and we need to do it much faster. I’m proud of the progress we have made this term approving and building affordable housing and we're just getting started,” Tory said in a written statement.

His campaign team added that only since Tory took office did the city finally start meeting and exceeding an affordable housing target of 1,000 units per year.

Tory's camp shot back at Keesmaat, stating that in her time as chief planner, she never discussed the idea of building 10,000 new affordable housing units every year for 10 years.

“During her time at CEO of the Creative Housing Society, Keesmaat did not get a single unit of affordable housing approved or built,” Tory’s team said. “In fact, the city didn't even receive an application from Keesmaat's organization.”

Speaking at city hall on Tuesday, Coun. Ana Bailao, chair of the affordable housing committee, said the city is already using many of the strategies Keesmaat suggested.

“We are unlocking city land. We called on the federal government and the province to do the same. We have been extremely successful with the province in also unlocking their land. The West Don Lands is a clear example of creating 2,000 units, 600 of them affordable,” she said.

“We’ve been working with the federal government on a national housing strategy. We pushed hard for a few years and we finally have a national housing strategy that is going to assist us. We are working with the CMHC on several fronts so all of these are steps that the city has been taking.”