The City of Toronto’s Official Plan articulates a vision in which housing choices are available for all people in their communities, and at all stages of their lives. Toronto’s quality of life, economic competitiveness, and social cohesion depend upon affordable and appropriate housing options. And yet, like so many desirable, rapidly growing cities, housing affordability is increasingly out of reach for many Torontonians. The reality is, there is no “quick fix” to address this challenge. Cities around the world struggle to provide affordable housing. I am increasingly convinced that a myriad of solutions are needed, using a variety of planning tools. I blogged about inclusionary zoning a few weeks ago, and before that I blogged about the Federal and Provincial role. The best examples of providing affordable housing in Toronto, such as the revitalized Regent Park and the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, have involved all three levels of government playing a clear role.
Section 37 of the Planning Act also has a role to play, and is a tool specific to Ontario municipalities. It can be used by planners to negotiate the integration of affordable housing into a new development. While the affordable housing units secured using Section 37 may seem small, this is reflection of the value of a typical Section 37 agreement. It’s important to note that this is different from a Development Charge, which is a fee collected from developers at the time a building permit is issued to pay for the cost of infrastructure required to provide municipal services (such as roads, transit, water and sewer infrastructure, community centres and fire and police facilities).
Following are some examples wherein Section 37 was used to secure affordable housing units – an approach being applied more and more in instances where it is deemed desirable to do so.
At the 210 Simcoe Street condominium complex, a Section 37 agreement was used to secure 8 units for non-profit groups (Artscape and OCAD University). Artscape will be able to offer 5 units – 3 to own and 2 for rent – to artists at below-market cost. OCADU will have 3 units to house visiting academics, enhancing the university’s ability to create a vibrant atmosphere and enriched opportunities for learning.
At 56 Blue Jays Way, 7 affordable rental units were secured on site at a future 41-storey hotel and residence. The Section 37 agreement requires a mix of residence types, including larger sized units, with at least 2 two-bedroom units provided in the building. The two-bedroom units will rent for no more than $1,264 (if occupied in 2015), considerably less than what similar units in the area go for. The agreement’s intent is to provide affordable accommodation to individuals who would benefit from living downtown, particularly employees of local hotels and service industries.
Finally, at 66 Isabella Street, City planners were able to use Section 37 to secure an additional 100 mid-range rental units in a 23-storey infill development on an existing rental site. The Section 37 agreement also ensured the developer would maintain the existing rental units and provide assistance to current tenants who are required to relocate during renovations.