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Province lists no affordability requirements for first Ontario Line housing site

Ontario is looking for a developer keen to build more than 400 housing units at the future home of an Ontario Line station, but the lack of commitment to make any of the units affordable has its critics concerned. 

The site at King and Bathurst streets is the first of several that has come up for sale along the future Ontario line. Several sites like this one have received a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) and are part of the provincial government’s Transit Oriented Communities plan that aims to increase density near transit stations.

The selected developer would have the opportunity to build two 25-storey towers that would be integrated with the station buildings and reduce a need for residents to own cars. 

Mark Richardson, the technical lead for research and advocacy group HousingNowTO, says the offer document released by Infrastructure Ontario misses the mark on affordability.

“If you have a housing crisis, and you’re putting billions of dollars into new transit infrastructure, you need to also be ensuring that the housing that is being built above those new transit stations is containing a substantial amount of new affordable rental housing,” said Richardson.

Mark Richardson, of the volunteer group HousingNowTo says not baking an affordable housing requirement into land sold by Metrolinx was a missed opportunity.
Mark Richardson, the technical lead for research and advocacy group HousingNowTO, says not baking an affordable housing requirement into this land was a missed opportunity. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

“We need tens of thousands of units for households who earn between $30,000 and $80,000 a year,” he said.

“Teachers, personal support workers, nurses, paramedics — the kinds of people who keep the city running can no longer afford to live in the city of Toronto,” he said. 

Richardson says he’s worried about a possible pattern as more such sites come up for sale at other future Ontario Line stations, calling the move a “lost opportunity.” He points out the government also didn’t bake in any affordable housing sites when it sold off other Metrolinx land next to a GO station in the city’s east end at Main and Danforth recently.

The province has provided MZOs for five other sites on the southern portion of the Ontario Line that, combined with the King and Bathurst site, will represent about 8,000 units. The other five sites include Exhibition, Queen Spadina, Corktown, East Harbour and Gerrard, with more sites on the line expected to be added later.

“There needs to be a clear mandatory, affordable housing requirements put onto all of these sites before they go out to market,” said Richardson, adding a solution could include affordable rental units, affordable units to buy, co-op housing or other affordable options.

“At the moment we don’t have any obligation for any kind of affordability,” he said. “Let’s at least lock in something before these sites start being awarded to developers.”

‘They need to reverse course’: NDP housing critic

NDP Housing Critic Jessica Bell says the listing lacking any requirements for affordable housing is a concern to her too.

“It’s a massive lost opportunity,” she said. “They need to reverse course.”

“When they [the current provincial government] opened up new public land for development, they have made no requirement to build affordable housing for low or moderate-income people or even middle-income people at this point,” she said.

Ontario’s NDP Housing Critic Jessica Bell says many renters are having their basic rights violated, because there's very little enforcement of the rules.
NDP Housing Critic Jessica Bell says she wants the provincial government to make affordable housing a requirement in its own land sales. (Submitted by Jessica Bell)

Bell says it’s particularly important to build affordable housing near transit as lower and middle-income earners are less likely to own a car. 

Still time for government to add requirements

An MZO means a developer does not need to go through the same rigorous planning process at the city level because the land is already zoned for development, a move intended to speed up housing development projects.

For Richardson, that’s why it’s all the more important that affordable housing requirements are baked in from the start.

“We can’t be dependent on the goodwill of the developer, who won’t start building on this site until 2030, that they are going to deliver some affordable housing,” he said.

According to material posted by Infrastructure Ontario on its website, bidding qualification is expected to take place in the early fall, with the first round of bidding taking place later in the fall. According to the offering document, the developers would be able to start building around 2031 when the transit line is set to complete. 

Province won’t say if affordable housing will be mandatory

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Infrastructure told CBC Toronto the government will provide opportunities for affordable housing.

“We’re taking action to build a variety different housing options to address the housing crisis, including with opportunities to include affordable housing into the [Transit Oriented Communities] Program,” Sofia Sousa-Dias said.

King Bathurst
The site at King and Bathurst streets will feature two towers with more than 400 units once completed. (Infrastructure Ontario/CBRE)

The ministry stopped short of saying whether affordable housing would be a mandatory component.

“The province will be seeking opportunities to work with the building partner to deliver affordable housing through the commercial agreement, including the potential to provide provincial funding to deliver affordable housing at the site,” Sousa-Dias added.

With the sale not yet made and other listings yet to come, Richardson says it’s not too late to earmark some of the Kinga and Bathurst units and those slated for other sites for required affordable housing.

“They still have time to correct the error of their ways.”

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