The federal government’s realty arm is now asking bidders to include affordable housing on a large piece of surplus land up for sale on Toronto’s waterfront after criticism from the local councillor and others.
On Wednesday, the vice-president of communications for Canada Lands Company, Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, told the Star that as part of the process of selling the property at 200 Queens Quay West, already underway, they had “modified instructions to bidders for the property to acknowledge and co-operate with the City of Toronto in identifying an affordable housing component as part of any development approval process” and that bidders “outline their experience with affordable housing.”
The change comes after Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina—Fort York) asked the federal government to pause the sale until affordable housing uses could be considered on the prime downtown site that is currently home to a privately-run, eight-level parking garage. Council, at Cressy’s urging earlier this month, also voted to request the sale be put on hold.
Cressy said praised Canada Lands on Wednesday for “doing the right thing.”
“I want to thank the Canada Lands corporation for adjusting the criteria . . . in light of the significant housing challenges facing our city,” he told the Star. “When it comes to public land, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal, we must always ensure that we are utilizing public lands for public good.”
The sale came under scrutiny after Canada Lands started marketing the land online as having the “potential to support a landmark two-tower development featuring a 55- and 45-storey tower above a 10-storey podium.”
The issue became politicized as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who is running to be prime minister in the upcoming federal election, called for the sale to be halted, saying building luxury condos on public land was inconsistent with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stance on alleviating the affordable housing crisis in Toronto and elsewhere.
Local Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who represents the area, earlier told the Star the sale was out of the federal government’s hands after the land was transferred to the federal agency and accused Cressy of “grandstanding.” He continued to assert those points on social media this week and in an interview Wednesday.
“We were at loggerheads for no reason because he was asking to stop the sale,” Vaughan said of Cressy. Cressy’s council motion asked for a pause of the sale until a requirement was included to ensure the site would be used to create new affordable housing.
Vaughan insisted it would have been improper for the local MP or Minister to step in but said he’d encouraged Cressy to speak to Canada Lands directly.
“For Joe to claim this is a victory is only because he set it up as a problem.”
The federal Minister for Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough, who is responsible for Canada Lands, did not respond to a request for comment.
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Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags