For too long, some low-rise neighbourhoods in the city have resisted allowing more density, but Mayor John Tory’s new housing action plan could finally bring unprecedented change to less development-friendly areas.
Among the plan’s supporters is Dianne Saxe, councillor for Ward 11, which includes the Annex, an area that at times has been a flashpoint for opposition to some condominium projects.
“We do know that there has been a lot of concern about increasing density,” Saxe said.
However, she said the issue is not limited to the Annex. Much of the Danforth, for example, is lined with two-storey buildings despite the fact that it’s located on a major subway line.
She also noted that significant areas of Toronto have shrinking populations. Large swaths of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough — as well as some neighbourhoods in the old city of Toronto — have experienced population losses since 2016.
The Annex Residents’ Association (ARA) agreed that opening the door to more multi-family units and rooming houses makes sense, but the group wants to see enforcement and regulation ramped up too.
The association doesn’t want the Annex to turn into “canyons” of highrise condos.
“What we’re afraid of is being Manhattanized,” stated Gillian Bartlett, communications chair for the ARA, in an email.
Bartlett explained it’s not only a matter of constructing more homes — the type and tenure are also important.
“As tempting as it sounds, simply building more housing will not address affordability,” stated Bartlett. “Almost all new builds are condominiums, often purchased simply for investment by owners who charge high rents to immediately cover their costs.”
As far as ARA is concerned, rental housing needs to be a priority, Bartlett continued.
“More dedicated rental accommodation is necessary. And protecting tenant rights is essential,” stated Bartlett.
“Permissions given to developers to proceed with demolishing existing mid-rise apartments will only serve to displace long-term tenants and give very little or no assistance to them as they seek alternate housing.”
Brad Bradford, a councillor for Beaches–East York, chairs the Toronto City Council’s planning and housing committee.
“We were directing our growth to the urban centres along the avenues and really not touching the neighbourhoods at all, but with the housing crisis reaching levels that are pricing people out of the city, we recognize that we have to make some changes,” said Bradford. “We have historically seen a tremendous amount of local opposition, sometimes from residents’ associations — often from local councillors — to change in our neighbourhoods.
On Dec. 14 city council approved the 2023 Housing Action Plan, calling on staff to hash out specific policy details for Toronto’s executive committee by March 2023. Work on drafting the plan is beginning, and among its aims is a goal to “amend the City-wide Zoning Bylaw to be more permissive from a housing opportunities perspective.”
The plan sends a “strong, unequivocal message” that more opportunities to create housing are coming to longtime low-density neighbourhoods, said Bradford. “The status quo is no longer working, and we need to try something new,” he explained.
The housing plan won’t impose widespread highrise development, Bradford said. Rather, it will end so-called exclusionary zoning.
“It is gentle density. It will be incremental — but it’s really about providing a pathway to introducing new types of housing that exist in other parts of the city,” Bradford said. “I’m talking about duplexes, triplexes, quads, walk-up apartments that maintain that neighbourhood scale.”