Candidates for Toronto city council are being asked to pledge their commitment to the preservation and creation of more affordable housing, in the run-up to the October election.
The pledge has been backed by 55 associations and agencies invested in helping renters and marginalized people, including Parkdale Community Legal Services, Sistering, Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), Aboriginal Legal Services and the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.
Included in the proposed steps or goals: “No more homeless deaths, financial stability for Toronto Community Housing, make ‘affordable housing’ truly affordable, ensure new residential development includes everyone (and) mobilize Toronto’s resources to build more affordable housing.”
Candidates are also being asked to commit to making “permanently affordable housing part of the core mandate” of city real-estate agency CreateTO, fast-track planning and permit approvals to expand housing stock, and apply an “affordable housing lens” to all planning. The pledge was emailed to all candidates on Wednesday and signatures will be posted online at TOHousingPledge.ca.
Kenn Hale, the director of legal services for ACTO, said the aim is to get solid commitments to practical solutions for problems that have been discussed at city council, in one form or another, for years.
“This election really is going to be about what the future of Toronto is and Toronto it seems is going to continue to grow and we have to make sure we are welcoming to people from all income levels,” Hale said. “This is the time when the people of Toronto get a choice about who is going to manage that change.”
Housing is already an election issue. Mayor John Tory and mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat have both pledged to boost affordable rental housing stock, promising to create 40,000 new units in 12 years and 100,000 over 10, respectively.
The city currently defines affordable as at or below average market rent. In 2018, a one-bedroom unit costs on average about $1,202 a month for purpose-built rentals and not condos, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
In Ontario, landlords can only raise the rent on occupied units an amount set by the province each year. Once vacant, landlords can charge whatever they want.
“There is a fear the current government will move to roll back legislation,” around rent controls for occupied units despite Premier Doug Ford stating he would not, said Rob Field, president of the Graydon Hall Tenants’ Association.
“I’m currently paying $1,350 for a two-bedroom apartment. The going rate for a new tenant is $1,700. Now it is becoming unaffordable,” said Field, who rents near Don Mills Rd. and Hwy. 401.
The association wants a review of the process for above-the-guideline increases, which allows landlords to apply to recoup costs for significant improvements or repair work.
Ford rocked city hall in late July announcing a midelection cut from 47 seats to 25 in the name of efficiency. A Superior Court judge ruled the legislation downsizing council unconstitutional, but an appeal court’s decision Wednesday to put on hold, pending appeal, that ruling means it appears likely a 25-ward election will proceed, and candidates signed up to run in that scenario will be eligible to sign the pledge.
Uncertainty lingers, however, because there is still the possibility of further legal challenges, plus the question of whether the city clerk will be able to hold any fair, legal election on Oct. 22.
With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and David Rider
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar