Toronto is on a roll

And our home price is­sues are a di­rect and pre­dictable re­sult

Midtown Post - - News -

If only a sim­ple few moves could get hous­ing prices back into the af­ford­able realm to even a small slice of Toron­to­ni­ans, we would all be happy.

But no such luck. Our lead­ers can wail to great ef­fect, even pro­pose little changes here and there, but the prob­lem looks like it is be­yond hu­man means.

I think the big­gest cause of the in­creased cost of hous­ing, rental and own­er­ship, is the ex­tra­or­di­nary growth spurt Toronto finds it­self in. The econ­omy around here is boom­ing, with un­em­ploy­ment rates lower than they have been for many years. Peo­ple want to be here in this city.

This kind of growth is what the lead­ers of other cities can only en­vi­ously dream of. As Jane Ja­cobs noted, city growth is fu­elled by ex­ports (it brings more money into the city, al­low­ing new en­ter­prises to ex­pand), and Toronto’s ex­ports are ex­tra­or­di­nary. Our cul­tural prod­ucts are in de­mand: Drake, the world’s big­gest per­for­mance draw; Come From Away, the hit Broad­way mu­si­cal de­vel­oped at Sheri­dan Col­lege; Mar­garet At­wood’s The Hand­maid’s Tale, lauded on tele­vi­sion; the Group of Seven be­ing dis­cov­ered in other coun­tries.

Our ar­chi­tects and plan­ners are em­ployed around the world — Di­a­mond and Sch­mitt re­design­ing Lin­coln Cen­ter, KPMB at work in Yale and Prince­ton. All the while new com­pa­nies open up shop here.

High hous­ing prices are a re­sult of the de­mand of more peo­ple want­ing to live in Toronto. You can put your fin­gers in the dike to try to pre­vent cost es­ca­la­tion be­cause of growth — that’s what tax­ing foreign real es­tate buy­ers or own­ers of va­cant units is about — but it hardly deals with the prob­lem.

The devel­op­ment in­dus­try tried to blame the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s Growth Plan for the high cost of hous­ing, ar­gu­ing its reg­u­la­tions that en­cour­age in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion rather than more sprawl in­ter­fere with the in­dus­try build­ing what it wants where it wants. But then the gov­ern­ment re­leased the fig­ures: in the Golden Horse­shoe, no less than 56,000 ground-re­lated units were ap­proved in 2016 for devel­op­ment on green­field sites. Gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion doesn’t stand in the way of more houses be­ing built.

The gov­ern­ment has ex­tended rent con­trols to all build­ings con­structed since 1991, but that will not in­crease sup­ply — it will sim­ply give some pro­tec­tion to tenants who oth­er­wise find they are fac­ing 30 per cent rent in­creases. The tax­ing schemes al­ready noted may have some mi­nor ef­fect, but they will not pro­vide more units.

The crit­i­cal prob­lem is that no­body planned for the growth we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. The city has not been push­ing hard to cre­ate a larger num­ber of af­ford­able hous­ing units. In­deed, city coun­cil is go­ing the other way: it has pro­vided pal­try fund­ing to re­pair the Toronto Com­mu­nity Hous­ing units it owns, it and ex­pects to tear down 1,000 af­ford­able units in the next year.

If we had planned for this growth, we would have put in place reg­u­la­tions that al­lowed mod­est five- and six-storey in­fill projects along all of our cur­rent sub­way lines and main ar­te­rial streets. We could have be­gun ex­ten­sive re­de­vel­op­ment of more than 100 failed pub­lic hous­ing projects owned by the city. We could have forged strong agree­ments by which other gov­ern­ments shared with the city the costs of new af­ford­able hous­ing.

But none of that hap­pened, and there’s no sense of move­ment that way with the cur­rent city ad­min­is­tra­tion.

All of which means that, in spite of the tin­ker­ing that will oc­cur to a va­ri­ety of gov­ern­ment mech­a­nisms, high hous­ing prices are here to stay for the next half dozen years. Then, when the growth spurt comes to its sad end, hous­ing costs will stag­nate, but not as much as wages, so we’ll have a dif­fer­ent kind of prob­lem. Some­thing like boom and bust for a city that re­fuses to do its home­work.

Late, great plan­ning guru Jane Ja­cobs in the back­yard of her An­nex neigh­bour­hood home

JOHN SEWELL 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.

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