Toronto City Council finally votes for Inclusionary Zoning

Following nearly three years of consultations, Toronto City Council has voted for the adoption of an Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) policy. This means that new housing developments near major transit areas in Toronto will be required to have a specific percentage of affordable units, whether it be condominiums or rental buildings. It is a welcome decision to see Toronto join nearly 500 other North American municipalities in adopting IZ.

Toronto’s IZ is mandatory which demonstrates the commitment to ensuring that developers participate in making our city more affordable for residents. We are glad to see that the period of affordability has been extended to 99 years, essentially making the housing developed affordable for many years to come. The definition of affordability is also based on a household’s income, ensuring that they do not spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

While we applaud the passing of IZ in Toronto, we want to acknowledge that this policy could have been bolder. The policy passed requires a much lower set-aside rate and a slower phase-in period than what some studies had shown to be feasible. What this means for our residents is the loss of an opportunity to build a higher number of affordable housing our residents need.

We hope that by passing IZ, City Council will now have the policy tool it needs to build more affordable homes and to review this policy in a timely manner so it becomes stronger and more effective in increasing affordable housing choices. We also hope that the integrity of the policy will be upheld over the long haul, where such reviews will be grounded in a rights-based framework, similar to that recognized in the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan.

City Council lacks support from councillors to legalize Multi-Tenant Housing framework yet again

City Councillors in Toronto had an opportunity twice this year to approve a framework to permit and regulate multi-tenant homes (MTH) across the city that would protect the residents of unregulated MTH, and preserve these deeply affordable housing options for residents. Both times, City Council failed to get enough votes to pass this crucial policy and instead chose to defer the proposed MTH regulatory framework. The Mayor, while deferring the vote for a second time, asked City staff to reconsider several aspects of the proposed framework such as parking spaces, and increasing the number of enforcement workers.

MTH offers some of the most affordable housing options for Toronto’s residents and they exist in almost every neighbourhood across the city, whether or not some people choose to recognize them. These are the housing options for many students, newcomers, seniors and people living on fixed incomes. The failure of passing the new regulatory framework means that many of these residents will continue to live in the shadows, in often unsafe and inadequate homes. As their homes remain illegal in many parts of Toronto, these residents live with the fear of losing their home if they raise their housing concerns with City authorities, and are left without legal protections to improve their living conditions.

The City of Toronto made a commitment to advance the right to housing in its HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan. This implies that the City adopts policies that help all residents access safe, adequate and affordable homes. The City of Toronto’s Housing Charter and a human rights approach to housing recognizes that “all residents should be able to live in their neighbourhood of choice without discrimination”. The current regulatory framework of the City’s multi-tenant homes is discriminatory and in conflict with the City’s Housing Charter commitments to uphold people’s right to housing.

Our City is once again allowing a dangerous and discriminatory status-quo to continue by deferring its vote on the new regulatory framework. We call on Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council to end the ongoing discirmination against tenants living in MTH by approving and implementing the new regulatory framework. Protecting these residents and ensuring their safety is of paramount importance.

Addressing homelessness in the city

Nearly a year ago, in September 2020, the Right to Housing Toronto (R2HTO) provided the City with a set of rights-based recommendations to uphold its commitment to realize the right to housing for all residents living in encampments.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, encampments have increased across the city, many of which are as a result of unsafe conditions in shelters and the lack of access to adequate and affordable homes.  

Ahead of Toronto City Council’s meeting on June 8 and 9, 2021, R2HTO joined 20 organizations and groups who signed a joint statement urging the City to act in compliance with human rights legislation at the provincial, national, and international levels by enacting a rights-based approach to engage with encampment residents and people experiencing homelessness.

At the Council meeting, Councillor Mike Layton introduced a motion asking for the City to reiterate its commitment to a human rights approach to housing for those experiencing homelessness, as well as to ensure that City staff develop and implement a response that is consistent with the Jury’s recommendations from the Faulkner Inquest, as it specifically relates to the health and safety of those living in encampments. The motion passed with near unanimous support, which was a welcome development and is a crucial approach to addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto.

A core aspect of a rights-based approach to addressing serious human rights issues like homelessness is to meaningfully engage impacted communities. At this same council meeting, Councillor Layton’s introduced a motion to meaningfully engage encampment residents and people with lived experience of homelessness in developing a strategy to provide them with housing opportunities. Unfortunately, this motion failed to gain support from a majority of City Councillors.

On July 21, following the City’s clearing of several encampments, advocates including R2HTO once again urged the City to take a rights-based approach by consulting encampment residents in their efforts to find them adequate and safe housing. We supported a set of rights-based recommendations laid out in A Path Forward which was presented to Mayor John Tory.

We will continue to urge the City to address homelessness by upholding its obligations and implementing rights-based recommendations in all areas of its housing policies and practices. 

R2HTO Statement on the City deferring the new multi-tenant housing framework

The City of Toronto made a commitment to advance the right to housing in its 10-year HousingTO Action Plan, through its housing policy. This commitment means the City adopts policies that help all residents in the city access adequate and affordable homes. Today, City Councillors in Toronto had an opportunity to pass a policy to permit and regulate multi-tenant homes across the city that would recognize Toronto’s deeply affordable housing options and to ensure that tenants with lower incomes can live in safe and adequate homes. We are disappointed that Toronto’s City Council didn’t have the votes to pass this important framework and instead had to defer passing the proposed multi-tenant housing regulatory framework.

Multi-tenant homes provide an important affordable rental option for many low-income Torontonians. These homes can be found across the entire city but are unfortunately not permitted in many parts of the city. This has forced many residents to live in the shadows, oftentimes in unsafe and inadequate conditions, with the fear of losing their homes if they raise their housing concerns with City authorities.

The City of Toronto’s Housing Charter and a human rights approach to housing recognizes that “all residents should be able to live in their neighbourhood of choice without discrimination”. The current regulatory framework of the City’s multi-tenant homes is discriminatory. Failing to harmonize the regulatory regime across Toronto is in conflict with the City’s Housing Charter commitments and violates people’s human rights.

Leaving many multi-tenant homes to operate in an unregulated regime is to pretend that these homes and their residents do not exist and don’t matter. How long will the City of Toronto let the residents of multi-tenant homes be left without legal protections and living in potentially unsafe homes?

Today the City not only failed to protect its lower income residents, but it also failed to acknowledge that multi-tenant houses are an important part of its affordable rental housing stock. It also lost a crucial opportunity to implement a more cost-effective way of increasing the affordable housing stock that Toronto desperately needs. City Council has an opportunity to right their wrong in September, and protect the right to housing in Toronto. This is our chance to do better. Let’s not lose our chance to do so.