There is little doubt that the housing growth we have seen in the Greater Toronto Area over the past decade or so has been good for the region. Over 185,000 units were added to the Greater Toronto inventory between 2009 and 2013, and as of October of 2014 there were more than 56,000 new residential units under construction. And this construction activity has contributed to our economy, comprising a significant amount of growth in the region. Because of the Places to Grow Act that the Province brought in 10 years ago, we are seeing more and more development in dense, walkable new neighbourhoods connected to transit. This is all good.
Yet the TD Economics paper released January 19 shows that there are some areas of concern that as a region we need to pay attention to and take concrete actions on if we want to secure the future economic, social and environmental prosperity of the region. We want to touch on three that have been a focus of the GTA Housing Action Lab, a collaboration across sectors and organizations to find areas of common ground that need our attention:
1. We need to increase the diversity of supply of housing we produce in the region: various incentives currently lead to two major types of development - greenfield ground-based housing and condo towers. As the supply and demand for these two types of housing stock wane, we will need to be more creative about how we build in the spaces we have left.
For example, the Province's recent approval of six storey wood buildings is an important new tool municipalities and developers can use to bring appropriate density to communities and could decrease costs - bringing more choice and improving affordability for consumers. We have also built very little affordable rental housing since the federal government removed its incentives in the early 80s (among other things). We have to make the incentives and disincentives match the supply we need now and in the future.
2. Affordability is an issue: removing costs and barriers to new supply will help alleviate some affordability issues in the region, in particular a squeezed middle class. But there is still a segment of the population that is really struggling to pay the rent, and they will need to be supported in other ways - one example would be to create a new income-tested housing benefit that is portable and is not tied to the welfare or social housing system.
3. We need to start thinking like a region on housing: we have started to do this in transit, but on housing we still have too little coordination between municipal housing plans as well as how they link in to the Province's Places to Grow Plan. The 10 year review of the Growth Plan in 2015 is the opportunity to start addressing this issue. This is not about new governance, but about sharing information across municipal boundaries, learning from best practices and ensuring coordination where needed.
The GTA Housing Action Lab is currently working to flesh out specific recommendations and we will release our first Action Plan in the coming months that will lay out a shared agenda for stakeholders across sectors to push for change in these areas.
TD Economics has delivered a great wake-up call to our civic leaders that this is an issue that needs to be addressed in new and intelligent ways. But we all have a role to play in this issue – private, public and not-for-profit, to ensure we have a housing system that meets the needs of the dynamic region in which we live.
Derek Ballantyne, Principal, DKGI Inc.
John Brodhead, Executive Director, Evergreen CityWorks
Alan Broadbent, CEO, Avana Capital and Chair, Maytree
Daryl Chong, CEO, Greater Toronto Apartments Association
Anne Golden and David Amborski, Co-Directors, City Building Institute, Ryerson University
Susan McIsaac, CEO, United Way Toronto
Matthew Mendelsohn, Executive Director, Mowat Centre, University of Toronto
Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction
Graeme Stewart, ERA Architects, Co-Founder Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal
Joe Vaccaro, CEO, Ontario Home Builders Association
All organizations listed above are participants in the GTA Housing Action Lab, a multi-sector collaboration driving towards coordinated and transformative action to tackle the issues of affordability and sustainability of the housing system in the Greater Toronto Area.