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Toronto councillors have voted to approve Mayor John Tory’s request for a report back on his 2023 housing action plan  — something he calls an “aggressive approach to address the acute affordability and housing crises” facing the city.

Councillors voted 23-3 in favour of the item with amendments.

Tory also asked council to approve a bylaw to better protect those living in multi-tenant housing by legalizing the practice in all parts of the city. The bylaw, previously deferred, already went through the staff reporting and public consultation process in 2021, Tory noted. That item carried by a vote of 18-8.

The results mean Tory’s enhanced “strong mayor” powers have yet to be tested. The mayor could have passed the item with just one third of council’s support at Wednesday’s meeting, but received wide enough support that those powers weren’t invoked.

Tory revealed a sweeping plan last week to help tackle the city’s affordability crisis by building a larger range of housing types by overhauling zoning bylaws and allowing multiplexes in residential areas.

The housing action plan begins the process of updating the city’s regulations in an effort to meet or exceed the target of building 285,000 homes over the next decade, Tory told reporters at a news conference Wednesday morning.

In a report Friday, the mayor called on city staff to draft a “housing action plan” that, if implemented, could see major changes to zoning bylaws, including allowing the building of multiplexes on all residential lots and legalizing rooming houses.

City staff will have until March 2023 to bring a report to Tory’s executive committee about how to put the plan into action.

Blind spots in plan, critics say

Wednesday’s meeting was expected to be one of the most important of the year for the recently-elected council.

But while the plan has broad support from experts and advocates, some critics have pointed out it doesn’t mention emergency, transition or supportive housing for the unhoused.

Newly elected Ward 9 Coun. Alejandra Bravo is among them. She brought a motion to extend emergency shelters’ leases, which was ultimately deemed out of order and outside the purview of Tory’s plan.

“We have made a political and policy choice at the City of Toronto to have one division that deals with shelter and one division that deals with planning and housing,” said Bravo.

“If we don’t start thinking about how homelessness is actually essential to planning and housing, then we’re going to end up with outcomes in which we see a huge disaster coming. And to me, it’s morally unacceptable.”

Tory told reporters his plan encompasses student housing, affordable housing, housing targets for the Port Lands and waterfront, supportive housing and multi-tenant housing.

From 2011 to today, 14 people died in fires at unlicensed rooming houses versus two in licensed rooming houses, Tory said.

“I believe that will actually save lives,” Tory said of the plan.

Tory reiterated Wednesday that he has “no more elections to fight.”

“The only thing I am fighting now is time,” he said, suggesting standing in the way of the plan in the face of the housing crisis would be tantamount to “political theatre.”

Matlow applauds motions while bringing his own

Ward 12 Coun. Josh Matlow called the plan an “important step in the right direction,” while moving a motion of his own that he said complements the mayor’s plan. The motion failed by a vote of 22-4.

Matlow’s motion included looking at the possibility of a public builder to shield housing from the “unpredictability” of the private sector, exploring municipal measures to curb speculation and increasing land-transfer taxes for non-primary investment residences; and imposing rent control on city sites as well as sites involving the private sector.

“We should be telling those owners that we expect that those tenants live in affordable homes and they are protected for many, many, many years to come,” Matlow said.

Ward 19 Coun. Brad Bradford pointed out that portions of Matlow’s motion are outside of the city’s jurisdictional authority, to which Matlow responded his motion is a request for a report assessing the feasibility of his proposed measures.

Malik brings motion to preserve rental stock

After pausing for an official city council portrait, the meeting resumed Wednesday afternoon.

Newly elected Ward 10 Coun. Ausma Malik applauded the mayor’s plan, but introduced two motions of her own; one to preserve Toronto’s rental stock, and another to track not only the building of affordable rental units but also those units that are demolished. Both motions passed with broad support.

“With renovictions and housing seen as a speculators rather than shelter or as a right, we know that Toronto is losing more units of affordable housing than it’s building,” she said.

Malik was challenged by councillors Stephen Holyday and Jon Burnside, who expressed concerns that a building that becomes a rooming house must remain one and could not be converted later to a family home.

Malik responded that her concern is to protect affordable rentals.

Regulating suburban rooming houses

Another notable moment came from Ward 25 Coun. Jennifer McKelvie, who introduced a motion to limit rooming houses in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York to six units, and set minimum parking rates. In Toronto and East York, the limit on units is currently 12 to 25. Both proposals carried.

The reason for the discrepancy is that at present, those areas have no regulatory measures for rooming houses, and that this move would first bring them into compliance, McKelvie said.

McKelvie also shared a personal reason for her support for the move, saying when her mother moved out at 15 years old, “the only place she could live was an illegal rooming house.” When McKelvie was born, her mother shared a home with other friends and students.

“It was that co-living that allowed them to survive and get by,” she said.


Story by: CBC News