GTA

Affordable housing project up in the air after provincial cuts

A plan to add more than 100 affordable apartments to a Scarborough neighbourhood is up in the air after the province cut a program that would have helped pay for the project.

“We work hard to … create affordable housing in the city, and so it’s always very disappointing when we see that it doesn’t come through,” said a frustrated Coun. Ana Bailao, the city’s affordable housing advocate.

Podium Developments had planned a 27-storey, 386-unit rental building on Dale Avenue, near the Guildwood GO station with about 30 per cent of the units earmarked for lower income residents, the developer told CBC Toronto in an email.

Podium planned to take advantage of a provincial government program that refunds the development charges that builders must pay to municipalities.

“We then learned of the [development charge] rebate cancellation in November, 2018 and lost all provincial funding,” the email says.

Podium went back to the drawing board. The new, smaller incarnation of the project, which Scarborough community council passed on to staff for more study last week, calls for seven- and 12-storey buildings, with only 33 affordable rental units — about 11 per cent of the total.

Steve Clark, the province’s minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, defended his government’s decision to cut the rebate program, saying it benefited only 13 communities province-wide.

“We decided … that we would look at exempting new rental units from rent control, hopefully spurring on rental development in all 444 municipalities,” he said.

But Podium said it needs the funding help now, and rent controls don’t pay off for years.

Bailao said she’s not aware of any other affordable housing projects that have been jeopardized by the province’s decision to cut the rebate program.

Paul Zuliani, Scarborough’s director of community planning, emphasized that the project still needs to go through community consultations before its final mix of housing is determined. As well, it’s likely there will be changes suggested by city staff before before shovels are in the ground, which could take a year or more.

“After you work out all the issues, usually the number of units and the height and the density starts to fall a little bit,” he said.

“So I don’t know that the 116 [affordable units] was going to be the final outcome of any development, but we’ll try to get the 33 up, and we’ll see how willing the applicant is to increase the number.”

Some locals have already expressed reservations about the project.

At a public consultation organized by Podium, residents complained that the 2.25-hectare project will eliminate too much green space in the neighbourhood. And they say the area doesn’t have suitable city services to support an influx of new residents.

“Let’s make housing affordable,” resident Anita Thachuk said. “But let’s put the support structures in  that are needed — schools, underground infrastructure, green space — to keep our communities healthy.

Podium’s statement indicated the company will ask the federal government to fill the funding void.

As well, Clark told CBC Toronto he’s prepared to talk about other funding sources with both the city and Podium.

‘I sympathize’

“I sympathize with any developer who feels that that there was a missed opportunity,” he said.

“And I want to say to those municipal officials that are involved that if they do want to sit down with me and talk about how we can work together on providing more affordable housing, we still have a number of very significant tools that are available.”

The Dale Avenue project is being fast-tracked because it was approved under the Open Door Affordable Housing Program, a city initiative that helps developers with tax breaks and fee reductions if they agree to build affordable rental housing.

The province’s development charge rebate program was administered through Open Door.

Open Door got off the ground in late 2016.

Since then, nine buildings with 239 units have been completed, according to city statistics. Another 54 projects are in development, representing 7,513 units.

Bleak outlook

But a new report from RBC Economics paints a grim picture of what the city needs to ease what it calls Toronto’s housing deficit.

“To restore equilibrium over, say, a two-year timeframe, we estimate Toronto’s rental stock must expand by 53,500 new rental units (the size of the deficit plus two years’ worth of demand growth) or an average of 26,800 units per year,” the report says.

“Now here’s the rental supply reality: despite mounting developer interest in rental apartment projects and heavy investor involvement in the new-condo market, the number of new rental units making their way to the rental universe falls way short of what’s needed in Toronto. The pace has to at least double,” it continues.

“High Toronto construction levels aren’t high enough.”

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