How T.O. stacks up against N.Y.C. & Lon­don

As other cities be­gin to tackle big is­sues, our city floun­ders

Bayview Post - - News - JOHN SEWELL

It’s al­ways use­ful to peek at what the com­pe­ti­tion is up to. You can learn a few things, maybe steal some ideas, maybe pat your­self on the back.

Toronto is in com­pe­ti­tion with other ma­jor cities — com­pe­ti­tion for skilled tal­ent, en­trepreneurs and in­vest­ment. Wit­ness the cur­rent con­test for the lo­ca­tion of the new Ama­zon cen­tre with its es­ti­mated 50,000 jobs, which, for bet­ter or worse, Mayor Tory is now work­ing hard to se­cure.

Here’s a brief look at what two of the cities with which Toronto is com­pet­ing, Lon­don and New York, are up to.

Lon­don’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, re­leased a new strate­gic plan for that city, and pub­lic hear­ings on it are just clos­ing. One large seg­ment in the plan con­cerns the need for new af­ford­able hous­ing in Lon­don. Cur­rently only 13 per cent of the new hous­ing built there is af­ford­able. The mayor wants to in­crease that to 50 per cent. The in­ten­tion of the plan is to “em­bed the re­quire­ment for af­ford­able hous­ing into land val­ues” — that is, make it clear to in­vestors that they will be re­quired to fac­tor the cost of build­ing af­ford­able units into what they will pay for land. If it comes about, it’s bound to drive land prices down.

This new pol­icy would ap­ply to any de­vel­op­ment un­der­tak­ing of 10 or more units. A de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion that in­cludes 35 per cent or more af­ford­able units gets speedy ap­proval. Those with less are re­viewed care­fully with­out much pri­or­ity. Grants are avail­able for pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to help them meet the tar­gets, and this ap­plies not only to rental, but to own­er­ship units. There are var­i­ous lev­els of sub­sidy, de­pend­ing on in­come.

The punch­line is that the mayor ex­pects 17,000 af­ford­able new units will be built each year for 10 years. The plan notes that the need is even greater than that — more than 25,000 af­ford­able units a year are needed — but it seems achiev­ing that higher fig­ure is just out of reach.

How does Toronto re­spond? Cur­rently there are more than 100,000 fam­i­lies on the af­ford­able hous­ing wait list, but the num­ber of new af­ford­able hous­ing units cre­ated in our city is about 500 each year — far be­low the 10-year tar­get of 1,000 per year.

We are way be­hind com­pe­ti­tion set by Lon­don.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Bla­sio has an­nounced that city pen­sion funds will di­vest them­selves of fos­sil fuel in­vest­ments. Other cities have made sim­i­lar com­mit­ments, such as Oslo, Paris, Mel­bourne, Wash­ing­ton, Capetown and Ber­lin, to name a few.

New York City’s di­vest­ment amount is $5 bil­lion, a small por­tion of the $190 bil­lion in pen­sion funds for city staff, but if oth­ers fol­lowed this lead, it could have an enor­mous im­pact in re­duc­ing the amounts avail­able for in­vest­ments by oil com­pa­nies in new wells or oil sands.

Mayor de Bla­sio took a sec­ond step, an­nounc­ing that the city was su­ing the big oil com­pa­nies for the dam­ages caused by the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try’s im­pact on green­house gases, such as the Sandy storm of a few years ago. (San Fran­cisco has taken sim­i­lar ac­tion.)

The di­vest­ment move­ment has been cham­pi­oned in Canada by Naomi Klein and the Leap Man­i­festo, but it has gen­er­ated al­most no in­ter­est from Toronto City Coun­cil. Toronto does not have free reign over its pen­sions. They are in the hands of OMERS (On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees Re­tire­ment Sys­tem), which man­ages pen­sions for other On­tario mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties as well as the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. But Toronto could align it­self with Leap and ask other cities to do the same, so there is con­certed pres­sure on OMERS to take the di­vest­ment route.

Maybe it’s time for our city to get on side with what our com­peti­tors are do­ing.

In my last col­umn I es­ti­mated the sub­sidy for each new rider on the York Univer­sity sub­way ex­ten­sion was $24, but my math was wrong. The sub­sidy per rider per year is just over $20. My apolo­gies. Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a for­mer mayor of Toronto and the au­thor of a num­ber of ur­ban plan­ning books, in­clud­ing The Shape of the Suburbs. Ad­ver­tis­ing Prop­er­ti­esties Glob­ally Thor­ough Back­groundound Checks Large Se­cu­rity De­posits Greet­ing Guests at the Proper op­erty House­keep­ing During­ing the StaySta De­par­ture Clean­ing and In­spec nspec­tion Se­cu­rity Drive By Avail­able 24/7

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