Ontario’s Transit Oriented Communities are not prioritizing affordable housing space, says Toronto-Danforth councillor

While the Ontario government recently announced six new Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) in Toronto’s east end, a local councillor is reminding the province that no progress on affordable housing at the sites is being made.

The province expanded on its plans to build more housing around transit with a goal of creating 5,900 new residential units across these TOC locations.

“Our government is taking action to ensure that unique housing needs are met all across Ontario,” said Paul Calandra, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in a news release on Oct. 19. “Bringing more housing, including affordable housing options, within a short distance of transit supports the work we are doing to tackle the housing supply crisis and ensure growth is aligned with our investments in critical infrastructure.”

While provincial officials speak about their intentions to build affordable homes through this process, Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher is once again reminding them that no such progress has been made in this department so far.

“I am disappointed the provincial government is not requiring any affordable housing for these new Transit Oriented Communities, despite offering these developers taxpayer-funded density bonuses,” Fletcher told Beach Metro Community News in an interview this week.

“It’s unfortunate the province does not prioritize affordable housing in a similar manner.”

Fletcher’s Toronto-Danforth ward will see the introduction of four new TOCs. They will be located at 356 Eastern Ave. (formerly a self storage site just east of Broadview Avenue); 388 Carlaw Ave. (a heritage industrial building just northwest of Dundas Street East); at the intersection of Pape and Danforth avenues; and at Pape and Cosburn avenues.

The other two proposals are for TOCs in Thorncliffe Park in East York and along the route of the Scarborough Subway Extension near Lawrence Avenue and McCowan Road.

Although Toronto’s urgent need for affordable units continues to increase, Fletcher said she is seeing the repeated failure of developers to include affordable units in their proposals for similar projects.

While her past calls for affordable unites in the Gerrard Street East and Carlaw Avenue area TOC apparently fell on deaf ears, Fletcher said she is hoping that provincial policies which encourage construction of affordable rentals will soon be implemented.

“I continue to call on the province to mandate a minimum 20 per cent affordable housing target for Transit Oriented Communities developments,” said Fletcher.

“Their failure to do so – for both these four new developments and the one planned for Gerrard and Carlaw – is a missed opportunity to create desperately needed affordable housing here in Toronto-Danforth and across the city.”

Toronto lost more than 70,000 affordable units between 2016 and 2021, according to the 2021 Census. Although not all of those losses are a result of the private market – inflation driving prices of some affordable units just above the threshold – the issue is still one that demands concern.

As the city’s affordability crisis soars, Toronto councillors are desperately seeking methods in which they can nurture a climate that attracts construction of affordable residential units.

Ontario’s Planning Act once incentivized affordable units by offering a density bonus under Section 37. This policy permitted increases in height and density of a development through the zoning bylaw in exchange for community benefits such as the provision of affordable units.

However, in 2022 provincial legislative changes were made to the Planning Act which saw Section 37 replaced by a Community Benefits Charge (CBC). This new tool, according to the City of Toronto, authorizes them to “collect CBCs to pay for the capital costs of facilities, services and matters that are required to serve development and redevelopment”. But, it also strips the city of the opportunity to require developers to provide cash contributions for specific purposes as there was with Section 37.

Ontario currently has plans to develop TOCs at eight other future stations along the new Ontario Line and Yonge North Subway Extension. This is expected to create about 48,000 new residential units. But how many of these new developments will address Toronto’s housing affordability crisis is unknown.

Amarachi Amadike, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro Community News