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Toronto’s new plan to build 65,000 affordable housing units hinges on billions in provincial, federal funding

Toronto officials have revealed a first look at the city’s new, accelerated plans to build affordable housing — but that plan will require billions of dollars in federal and provincial funding and loans to make it happen.

In a report released Tuesday that is scheduled to go before executive committee next week, the deputy city manager of development and growth services lays out a look at the proposal, and highlights that Toronto is experiencing a “financial crisis” in both the short and long term.

“Despite the City of Toronto taking an increased role in the delivery of new affordable homes in recent years, Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis has worsened and now demands an even more robust range of actions across the housing continuum to adequately address the needs of current and future residents,” the report reads. 

“Increasing the supply of new homes across the full continuum is necessary to reduce pressures throughout the entire housing system, improve housing affordability and access particularly for lower- and middle-income households, and to support growth.”

But increasing that supply would be costly. The city has set a target of 65,000 new rent-controlled homes, and funding has been secured for 4,455 of those. 

Billions in costs

The report says the cost to deliver the remaining 60,545 homes is between $28.6 billion and $31.5 billion — leaving an estimated $3.7 billion and $5.3 billion in funding required from both the provincial and federal governments.

The city also says an additional $13 to $14 billion would be required from higher levels of government through loans, which officials say could then be repaid through rental income.

“These required financial investments, although significant, are necessary to restore some level of affordability after decades of insufficient public investments in housing,” the report reads.

The city also notes those funding estimates are “high-level and sensitive to market conditions including interest rate fluctuations and construction costs” — costs that have ballooned for construction projects across the country in recent years, after pandemic-related supply chain issues.

The city has already had to push for increased funding from both the federal and provincial governments this year, after asylum seekers were forced to sleep on the streets due to an overburdened shelter system.

Both higher levels of government did provide increased funding in an effort to curb that mounting problem, but the city still ended up urging the federal government to provide more funding, and funding that was sustainable over the long term.

The report makes it clear that the request for housing funding is distinct from Toronto’s request for a new “fiscal framework” to address the city’s $1.5 billion budget deficit. 

“A new fiscal deal to support the structural changes that will put Toronto on a path to long-term financial sustainability plus a commitment from the federal and provincial governments to invest in the HousingTO Plan,” the report notes.

City pushing to build, mayor says

Mayor Olivia Chow also appears to be making good on one of her key campaign promises: to have the city work as its own property developer.

The report recommends the city lead the development of five sites throughout the downtown — 405 Sherbourne St., 150 Queen’s Wharf Rd., 1113-1117 Dundas St. W., 11 Brock Ave. and 25 Bellevue Ave. 

The city, the report says, should lead “all aspects of the delivery of these sites” and “identify opportunities to accelerate delivery” of 47 similar city-owned sites.

Chow’s idea of making the city a “public builder,” as the report calls it, was criticized by some rivals on the campaign trail, including Ana Bailão and Coun. Brad Bradford (who remains on council) but was supported by others, including Coun. Josh Matlow.

At this point, the development of the sites appears to be in the “due diligence” phase. City staff are being asked to report back in fall of next year with an update on whether or not this approach is working. 

A silhouette of a crane at a construction site.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said Tuesday that the new report lists 52 sites across city divisions and agencies that are ready for construction. These can become purpose-built rental buildings, with thousands of affordable housing, rent-geared-to-income and rent-controlled units, she said. (John Rieti/CBC)

At a news conference Tuesday, Chow told reporters that no matter where she goes in the city, people continuously tell her that affordable housing needs to be built, now.

“In the past decade, the City of Toronto has not been building the kind of housing people of Toronto need,” Chow said. “We need a fundamentally transformational approach. A different approach.”

Chow also said she has met with the federal housing minister twice already, and has plans to do so again.

“If we’re going to make a big difference in this housing crisis, we need partnership from the federal and provincial government,” she said.

“We invite other levels of government to join us and get housing built fast.”

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