Well here’s a feel-good story from Toronto’s left-leaning newspaper!
Only I’m not sure if they actually believe what they’ve written, or if it’s just fodder to stimulate discussion…
“Condos Becoming Part of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Toolbox”
By: Laurie Monsenbraaten
Social Justice Reporter
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
With more than 70,000 households languishing for years on Toronto’s affordable housing wait list and few public dollars available for new construction, the city is turning to its burgeoning condo market for help.
Half a dozen condominium developers have inked deals with the city and non-profit housing providers to offer low-income families and individuals affordable rental and ownership units in their buildings.
Proposed amendments to Toronto’s Official Plan to be debated by city council next month are designed to encourage more developers to play ball.
The changes come in the wake of a new province-wide campaign trying to put affordable housing back on the political agenda, as low-income families and individuals struggle to pay rent in the shadow of hundreds of pricey downtown condominium towers.
“It’s not a solution to the housing crisis,” says Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina.)
“But in the absence of a real national or provincial housing program, we’re going to have to find a thousand other small inventions to try and see what works and what can be done.
“If one day Ottawa or Queen’s Park decide to get engaged, we’ll be ready to roll out these policies and models and deliver the housing we need.”
Some condo buyers may balk at investing in a building that includes units for low-income people for fear it will depress property values.
But Alan Vihant, senior vice-president of development for Great Gulf Homes, says he has had no pushback from purchasers at the company’s Charlie condo near King St. W. and Spadina Ave., which opened last fall.
Great Gulf offered the city four affordable rental units in the 36-storey building, along with other public benefits, in exchange for added height and density.
“At the end of the day, a lot of condos that are purchased are rented out,” Vihant says.
The affordable units are really no different, he argues, as they are scattered throughout the building and have the same doors, finishes and square footage as the rest of the units.
“As a strategy for affordable housing, I think it is actually much better to distribute a few units in every building as opposed to collecting 200 units of affordable housing and putting them all in one building,” he adds.
Encouraging affordable rental and ownership units in condominium developments will prevent downtown Toronto from becoming a “vertical suburb,” says Vaughan.
“We need a mix — from the person who works at the corner store in the base of the condominium to the person who cleans the office across the street,” he says. “They all deserve the opportunity to walk to work just like everybody else in the neighbourhood.”
Artscape led the way in 2007 in response to the loss of affordable live-work space for cash-strapped artists in the rapidly gentrifying West Queen West area.
It partnered with developer Urbancorp and community group Active 18 to include affordable ownership and rental units for artists in a traditional condominium complex.
Artscape Triangle Lofts, which opened in 2011 and occupies the first three floors of the 18-storey Westside Gallery Lofts condominium development near Queen St. W. and Dovercourt, was a pioneer, notes Sean Gadon, the city’s manager of housing development.
Gadon helped the project secure city benefits, such as property tax and development charge exemptions for those units, which are part of traditional affordable housing deals. It allowed Artscape to offer 48 below-market ownership units and 20 affordable apartments as well as gallery and café space for the artists. To keep costs down, the artists don’t share Westside’s pool or other amenities and use a separate entrance and lobby.
Actor Jane Luk still can’t believe she scooped an affordable apartment at Triangle Lofts.
A tenant since the building opened, Luk pays about $790 a month for her 600-square-foot apartment on the third floor — considerably less than the $1,009 monthly average for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto. The city defines rents as “affordable” if they are at least 20 per cent lower than the average for a given unit.
Luk had been living on friends’ sofas due to money woes before she moved in.
“I honestly thought I would have to move into my parents’ basement,” said the 40-something full-time actor, writer, producer and improviser.
“I just feel so relieved that I got in,” she says outside the condo’s brightly painted lobby over the clamour of construction crews working on condo towers to the east and north of her building. “It’s the only way I could live in the city and be where my work is.”
Although Luk says Artscape units with their exposed ceiling pipes and concrete walls, floors and pillars are “pretty bare bones,” the security of an affordable home and the support of fellow artists nearby allows her to focus her energies on her art.
Since Artscape, Gadon has worked with developers and non-profits to secure another dozen apartments and two dozen ownership units for low-income people. The strategy is beginning to offer the possibility of mixed neighbourhoods in Toronto’s growing vertical city.
But the numbers are still small. By comparison, about 285 affordable apartments in rental buildings are under construction or in the planning pipeline.
Councillors Vaughan, Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) and Ana Bailao (Ward 18, Davenport) who chairs the city’s affordable housing committee, have been champions on the political side.
Together, they have been using Section 37 of the city’s Official Plan — which allows municipalities to grant developers increased height and density in return for public benefits such as public art, parks and daycares — to squeeze affordable units into highrise condominium towers.
Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat says it is time to make these “one-off” deals explicitly part of the city’s affordable housing tool-box.
Proposed changes would add affordable rental units in condominiums owned and operated by non-profit housing providers and affordable home ownership, built by non-profit charities, to the list of eligible Section 37 benefits.
“It sends a very clear message that this is something that is desired,” Keesmaat says. “So instead of stumbling through this on a case-by-case basis and essentially securing affordable housing simply by will and might, we instead have some more clarity on how it might work when we are going to do it.”
Across the province, Richmond Hill is the only other municipality believed to be using condominium development to add desperately needed housing for low-income people. It recently secured seven affordable rental units in three condo developments.
In Toronto, developer Great Gulf began negotiations in 2008 with the city to donate four condos to the Kehilla Affordable Housing Program.
The non-profit housing provider serving the Jewish community was the first to forge a deal with a developer to acquire condo units, for the nominal cost of $10 each.
Rents — ranging from just under $700 for two bachelor units, to between $700 and $900 for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments — cover condo fees, maintenance and administration costs.
“Will it be repeated? I would hope so,” said Kehilla’s executive director, Nancy Singer.
But she worries the city is jumping on this concept 10 years too late.
“If we had done this when 100,000 (condo) units were being built and if 1 per cent were developed like this, we would have had thousands of units of truly affordable housing at no cost to anybody,” she says.
“But you can’t look backwards, you look forward. The opportunity is still there.”
There’s a lot to go over here. Perhaps point-by-point is easiest…
1) “If one day Ottawa or Queen’s Park decide to get engaged, we’ll be ready to roll out these policies and models and deliver the housing we need.”
Listen to Adam Vaughan! He’s soooooo subtle! Way to throw the province and the country under the bus, and blame them, while the city does absolutely nothing to look after its own issues.
This guy is such a beauty. He has no shame whatsoever.
2) Great Gulf offered the city four affordable rental units in the 36-storey building, along with other public benefits, in exchange for added height and density.
So the city gained FOUR units at “Charlie,” in a development of 314 units.
Charlie stands 36-storeys (123.3 metres), even though the building right next door (The Hudson) – built by the SAME developer only a couple years previous, stands only 21-storeys, or 69-metres.
What can we learn from this?
Well, perhaps if developers allow around 1% of their units to be used as affordable housing, then they can increase the height of their buildings by 79%.
That seems like a really, really reasonable trade-off. BLURP!
3) “As a strategy for affordable housing, I think it is actually much better to distribute a few units in every building as opposed to collecting 200 units of affordable housing and putting them all in one building,” he adds.
I can’t really disagree with this.
In fact, I think maybe the logic makes sense.
Take a look at low-income housing projects in major metropolitan areas across North America, and you’ll probably find that they eventually turn into slums, and cannibalize themselves.
This is the one part of this article that makes sense, and deserves attention.
4) “We need a mix — from the person who works at the corner store in the base of the condominium to the person who cleans the office across the street,” he says. “They all deserve the opportunity to walk to work just like everybody else in the neighbourhood.”
This is called “socialism.”
Define “deserve,” really.
At the risk of sounding elitist, and even though this might serve to contradict point #3 above, in any free market, nobody “deserves” anything, and prices are set by open market dynamics.
5) Artscape led the way in 2007 in response to the loss of affordable live-work space for cash-strapped artists in the rapidly gentrifying West Queen West area.
I have a question…
Why do “artists” exist, if they’re all cash-strapped, and all failing miserably?
Does our world benefit from more painters, basket-weavers, clay-pot-makers, and graffiti “artists?”
Why is it our job, as a society, to delay the inevitable; that all cash-strapped “artists” will eventually leave the industry in which they feel entitled to work, and move on?
A friend of mine started his music career at 18-years-old, and after fifteen years of toiling, has given up the dream, and has moved into another field. He applied for the odd government grant, and he worked his ass off at clubs, playing music for $20 some nights, but he never felt that society should support him.
I am guilty of generalizing, and I am often guilty of being an elitist, but I just wonder why “artists” get this special treatment in today’s world.
I would MUCH rather see these units go to single-mothers, landed immigrants, visible minorities, battered women, mentally handicapped – whoever, rather than “artists” who feel entitled to strum their guitars instead of working a 40-hour per week job at a desk, which they hate, like so much of the rest of the world.
6) Artscape Triangle Lofts, which opened in 2011 and occupies the first three floors of the 18-storey Westside Gallery Lofts condominium development near Queen St. W. and Dovercourt, was a pioneer, notes Sean Gadon, the city’s manager of housing development.
Um, I think I’ve covered “West Side Lofts” ad nauseum.
It’s simply the worst condominium ever built in Toronto, and I had the luxury of owning a unit here for a short period of time.
If this is any sort of standard or pioneer, then we have a long, uphill battle ahead…
All in all, I am in favour of affordable, low-income, and subsidized housing, but there has to be some sort of “plan.”
Allowing politicians to rest their laurels on paltry results like what’s described above is pathetic.
Allowing condominium developers to make sweeping changes to the skyline just to get FOUR affordable housing units in a building is not acceptable, in my opinion, as a tax-paying Torontonian.
And as for the “Section 37” of the City’s Official Plan, my colleagues have asked me to investigate where all the money from developers has gone, so if anybody has any contacts at City Hall, please pass them along!