Housing crisis should be top priority for next Toronto mayor

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©CAN STOCK PHOTO/VICHIE81

Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction News

Toronto’s next mayor should be focused on accelerating residential construction so the city can supply the housing needed to accommodate increased immigration and support growth, builders’ groups say.

“We need a mayor who is committed to fixing the housing crisis,” said Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) president Richard Lyall. “This is not a time for amateur hour.” He said the mayor must build on former mayor John Tory’s Housing Action Plan that provides measures aimed at increasing housing density in the city.

The recently approved plan would digitalize and streamline building permit processes for  purpose-built rental and other types of housing, allow right-of-way zoning along transit corridors and end exclusionary rules that prohibit all but single family housing over most  of Toronto. The plan commits the city to meeting or exceeding the provincial target of building 285,000 new homes over the next 10 years, compared to about 180,000 built over the preceding decade.

A provincial task force last year said Ontario would need to build 1.5 million homes to make housing more affordable and to keep up with projected increases in population driven by rising immigration levels. Toronto accounts for 285,000 units of the total.

Builders face a host of challenges in meeting the target, however, including elevated interest rates and chronic shortages of skilled construction workers that have contributed to a slowdown in housing starts. There is also political and community resistance to plans that would foster construction, densification in cities and the freeing up of more land for housing development, although declared mayoral candidates have indicated that they would make housing a priority.

“The worst thing for the city would be if a mayor was elected that really wanted to change course and not proceed with what heeds to get done,” Lyall said. “That would be a disaster.”

The race leading to  the mayoral by-election on June 26 is wide open with at least 16 candidates vying to replace Tory, who resigned in February after admitting to an  inappropriate relationship with a member of his staff. Lyall said a new mayor with greater authority under recently revamped provincial rules will be pivotal in determining if Toronto can overcome its housing supply shortage.

Ana Bailao
Ana Bailao

Candidates for the mayor’s job include Brad Bradford, an urban planner endorsed by Tory; Ana Bailao, a former deputy mayor who chaired the city’s affordable housing committee  and progressive urbanist Gil Penalosa, who ran a distant second to Tory in the last municipal election in 2022. Lyall described all three as qualified, citing their housing backgrounds and Penalosa’s international perspective on urban issues.

Carpenters’ Union Local 27, which represents about 9,000 workers in Toronto and the surrounding area, this week threw its support behind Bailao, with Mike Yorke, president of the executive board of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, calling her “a strong advocate for working people at the city level.”

Bailao has supported measures that require builders to include affordable housing in residential developments and led a campaign to ensure the city maintained collective agreements with trade unions.

“We are reciprocating,” Yorke said. adding that Bailao’s father was a construction worker and that the union will likely consider any role it can play in the campaign,

RESCON, a Toronto-based non profit whose members construct the bulk of Ontario’s new housing, endorsed Tory in the most recent municipal election and will decide about a possible endorsement in the current race after a mayoral candidates debate on housing later this spring.

Along with partners including Habitat for Humanity GTA and the Federation of Rental-housing providers of Ontario, RESCON will co-host the event on May 24, with candidates to  address the lack of affordable housing which it calls the most pressing problem facing the city.

A media panel will moderate the in-person debate and ask questions from the public. Location, time and format of the event is to be determined.

A spokesperson for the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), which represents GTA builders and renovators, said the group will issue its proposed housing platform after the mayoral candidate registration period closes early next month. But Justin Sherwood said the group would back policies that support a speeding up of the province’s home building plan.

In a report this week BILD said that after eight consecutive central bank interest rate increases, new home sales in the GTA fell sharply in February compared to the previous year. It said the benchmark price for a new single family home ticked up slightly over January to $1,759 043, but was still down 5.4 per cent year over year.

“All levels of government must work with industry to implement the changes necessary to meet the ambitious goal of building 1.5 million new homes in a decade,” BILD president and CEO Dave Wilkes said in a statement with the report.

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