Toronto mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa has made it his mission to solve Toronto’s housing affordability crisis with what he calls a “renovation revolution.”
With the election in just over a month, Penalosa released his housing plan, which details dozens of actions he plans to take as mayor whose underlying theme is increasing supply as a means of improving affordability. What may have the most immediate impact on the city’s housing supply is Penalosa’s proposal to end the city-wide single-family home ban and allow construction of up to six units, depending on the size and height of the lot.
“We’re in a huge housing crisis and we haven’t done much about it, particularly in terms of affordability,” Penalosa told STOREYS. “At the same time, we have most of the Toronto area in single-family homes, where everyone has parks and streets and sidewalks and sewage and water, and we need to create a little bit more density.”
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The allowances would limit the number of units per floor to two, meaning a property would have to have a three-story building to have six units. A four-story building would still be limited to six units, but would allow a larger unit to be built – something that would help accommodate families. Penalosa also hopes the zoning changes will help keep more of Toronto’s seniors in the neighborhoods where they live.
“Nine out of 10 seniors want to age in place, but they can’t afford it,” Penalosa said. “They have a big house, but they have to move because they cannot pay all the expenses. If someone could split their house into three, suddenly not only would they be able to stay in their neighborhood, which is very, very important, but they would now have an income.”
Part of Penalosa’s housing plan calls for the use of the federal national housing strategy for homeowner loans to support these conversions. He also intends to set up a one-stop-shop office that will help owners add new units.
Although the increased density may draw some criticism from the NIMBY crowd, Penalosa believes standardized city-wide policies will help counteract this.
“I think most fights come because there are no clear rules,” Penalosa said. “The problem is that in Toronto, if the developer or the owner of the house is a friend of a consultant, suddenly they get it [approved for] six floors or seven floors or 10 floors, and then people get very upset because they are surprised by 10-story buildings in the middle of a neighborhood of houses. So with [my plan]there is no room for negotiation.”
Urban planner and Smart Density co-founder Naama Blonder sees Penalosa’s plan as a good extension of the progress the city is making in enabling higher density, but notes that they may need to go further to fully address the housing crisis.
“I would argue that even increasing the height limit from four floors to six floors — floors, not units — will get the needle moving,” Blonder said. “By the way, Vancouver also allows six floors. As for NIMBYs, we cannot allow a vocal minority to dictate the future of our city.”
Penalosa is also trying to legalize multifamily housing — an issue that has been a contentious topic at City Hall for quite some time.
“We have students who are moving into shelters,” Penalosa said. “We need these shelters for the homeless, not for students. But the students go there because they have no other choice.”
Other students, Penalosa says, are already living in illegal dormitories, but because of their illegality, tenants are reluctant to complain about poor conditions.
“If we let them legalize, it’s going to be very clear how many people per room, how many people per washroom, and how many units,” Penalosa said.
Although the zoning for single-family and multi-family dwellings will likely draw quite a bit of attention, the majority of the densification increases advocated by Penalosa would occur around transit. He wants to allow height equal to street width on all major transit roads and would drop the requirement for pyramid steps.
“If you’re on Eglinton and it’s 65 meters wide, you can get 65 meters up, so it’s going to be very easy, so people won’t be surprised,” Penalosa said.
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However, the apartment plan indicates that additional floor allowances would be granted for earmarked rents. The plan also stipulates that the street level will provide commercial space.
What developers might quickly notice, however, is Penalosa’s plan to reduce development fees — a fee the developer pays at the time a building permit is granted — for five years. This comes just two months after the City of Toronto approved a hefty 46% increase in residential development fees. Developers wanting to build a single or two-family home would face a fee of $137,040. The fee for each bachelor or one-bedroom apartment built is expected to increase to $52,367, and for two-bedroom or more apartments, the fee is $80,218.
Development fees collected by the city go towards the construction of infrastructure to serve residents of the newly built homes such as libraries, recreation centers and parks. At the time, Mayor John Tory stated that development fees, as they existed prior to the migration, “don’t even begin to pay for the infrastructure we need to put in place to cope with a growing city.”
“That’s a lie,” Penalosa said. “We waste money on so many things…. Also, with development fees, we are asking people who are buying new homes to pay for everything in the cities when there are many, many things that every citizen should contribute to.”
During its vote, the city council approved an amendment that would provide exceptions for multiplexes with four units or fewer, which would eliminate development fees for second, third, and fourth units on a single lot. However, Penalosa’s plan would go well beyond that.
The Toronto mayoral election will be held on Monday, October 24, with pre-election days October 7-14.