Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto affordable housing math adds up to missed opportunity

Jennifer Keesmaat.
Jennifer Keesmaat.

Last week, in the midst of yet another Toronto City Council debate about a strategy to deal with the city’s affordable housing crisis, Coun. Joe Cressy turned to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and asked her to help with some math.

At the core of Cressy’s query was the issue of inclusionary zoning, which used in more 200 communities in North America — but not Toronto — to build affordable housing. It works by mandating that a percentage of units built in private development projects be designated as affordable homes.

Cressy started by asking Keesmaat how many new residential development projects there have been in Toronto over the last five years.

The answer, according to the chief planner, is more than 596 projects, representing 109,433 new units. A big number, but it seems accurate, seeing as I can’t go anywhere these days without running into a glossy condo ad trying to sell me on the merits of 400-square-foot living and granite countertops.

Then came the tricky part. “Had we had an inclusionary zoning policy in place prior to the construction of those units,” asked Cressy, “how many affordable units could we have created?”

Keesmaat didn’t hesitate. Assuming an inclusionary zoning policy mandating 10 per cent of all units in large buildings be set aside for affordable housing, the city would have created 10,000 new affordable homes, she said – housing for about 20,600 people.

But that didn’t happen. It couldn’t. Despite making 14 separate requests to the provincial government since 1999, Toronto still hasn’t been granted the power to use inclusionary zoning. Without it, the city was able to create just 2,800 affordable units over the last five years.

Such is our weird reality. Toronto is a city that somehow has both a housing boom and a housing crisis. But a proven policy that could help to bridge that gap isn’t allowed.

That isn’t to say inclusionary zoning is a silver bullet. Any strategy on affordable housing still needs to come with government funding. More importantly, an inclusionary zoning mandate won’t do much if every development application asking for more than six storeys gets shouted down by neighbours as an affront to their way of life.

Yes, sorry NIMBYs, inclusionary zoning will require density. It’ll require less red tape for developers too.

For those of us who are cool with that, there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic. The provincial government has said they’re working on a housing strategy update that could include provisions for inclusionary zoning. But there’s no time to waste. As it stands, the math on inclusionary zoning is simple — it adds up to a missed opportunity.

This post was originally published at on 2015-12-14T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments