Toronto council targets parking lots for affordable housing

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Toronto city council is reviewing the feasibility of converting dozens of parking lots and other city-owned property into housing and community infrastructure projects.

Councillors have directed city staff to create a list of suitable parks, forestry and recreation facilities and all off-street, transit-oriented parking lots that could be used for housing and community infrastructure and to review of existing and future Toronto Transit Commission stations for redevelopment opportunities.

“We are in a housing crisis and the City of Toronto is looking at every tool available at its disposal to move the dial on housing supply,” Coun. Brad Bradford said at the March 21 council meeting. “Surface parking lots are often not the highest and best land use, particularly around transit stations.

“It behooves us, given the context of the world we are living in right now that we have to look at these assets and see if we can get more value out of them and tackle the number one issue facing most people in this city which is access to housing that they can afford.”

The parking portfolio contains over 300 purpose-built parking facilities generally managed by the Toronto Parking Authority. There are over 30 active building projects on city-owned parking lots, supporting the housing plan, ModernTO and other initiatives.

While a large portion of the parking portfolio is not suitable for redevelopment for various reasons – below grade garages, leased from third parties and located in rights of way – city staff identified 130 of 300 parking lots managed by the Toronto Parking Authority, could potentially support housing, including 74 within a 10-minute walk from major transit service points.

Council wants current or future parking lots considered for development be required to include affordable housing and asked the Toronto Parking Authority property at 596-598 Gerrard St. E. to be designated as a top priority for redevelopment for affordable housing.

“The shift away from parking accommodation to housing and community service accommodation at these parking lots could provide a significant pipeline of city-owned lands to meet the housing and other goals,” David Jollimore deputy city manager, corporate services wrote in a report to council. “In making its decision to proceed on specific sites in the future, Council will need to balance goals and objectives from parking assets, namely continual revenue streams from parking, the need to maintain parking in some communities and neighborhoods.”

Priority sites for exploration are all in MTSA or protected major transit station areas (PMTSA) zones, have higher surrounding density, have favourable Official Plan designations for mixed use development, contain sizable municipal real estate footprints and appear to have fewer barriers to development than other TTC stations, Jollimore concluded.

However, Etobicoke-Centre Coun. Stephen Holyday questioned the decision, pointing out that parking lots support local businesses.

“We operate parking lots for a purpose,” he said at the council meeting. “Are we now changing and deciding not to do that any longer? Why would we do that? The lots don’t look empty to me,” said Holyday.

Mayor Olivia Chow said the long list of councillors weighing in on the subject is “encouraging.” She said ultimately, utilizing city real estate for housing opportunities is needed to address the housing and affordability crisis and help the city fulfil its promise of building 65,000 units.

“The people of Toronto need us to leave no stone unturned when it comes to building desperately needed, affordable housing,” she said.

Mark Richardson,’s technical lead, said it’s good the majority of council supported the move. While he contends that the change won’t be immediate and will take place over a number of years if it does proceed, it signals a much-needed change in the way the city uses its land.

“We have a housing crisis, we don’t have a parking crisis,” he said.

“We need to deliver new affordable housing at speed and at scale on land that the City of Toronto already owns because we can’t afford to go out and spend tens of million of dollars acquiring new sites.”

A full report on what sites would work best for conversion, timelines and resource requirements is expected to come back to council by the end of the year.


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