“Condos Becoming Part Of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Toolbox”

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…

AffordableHousing
“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.”

 


 

Wow.

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.

Right.

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!

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  1. Webbster18 says:

    I came to this site looking for some information and perhaps wisdom and found instead an unbelievably low-level discussion with bloggers calling one-another names – in a discussion about affordable housing. What’s wrong with you people? Save your fingers and don’t bother replying, because I won’t be back after this lowest common denominator experience.

  2. Scott Bell says:

    Your bang on about these starving artists.
    Surely there are people in more dire straits
    than some actor or artist involved in some city
    funded production no has ever heard of!!

    Spreading subsidized housing in this fashion
    is a great idea.

  3. Krs Hamilton says:

    Wow. I’ve lost respect for your blog. Artists are what keeps this city alive. Sure, some have no business calling themselves artists, but they do bring a flare to the neighbourhood. I own a unit in the condo you love to hate. I genuinely love the vibe that this community brings. I’d take this vibe over any douche baggery at other lame king street condos. I guess you never actually lived or spent time in the condo that you hate so much. Maybe it’s a better place without you.

    1. johnny chase says:

      That’s why all artist live together – because the only ones who appreciate the artists are the artists.

      Get over yourself and start contributing to society… then we’ll all be better of.

    2. ScottyP says:

      This could be just a shot in the dark Krs, but something tells me that you never had any respect for this blog in the first place.

    3. @ Krs

      On a long enough time horizon, everybody disagrees with something that I write. This just happens to be your day.

    4. @ Krs

      Just because I can’t let you off the hook – saying you love West Side Lofts…

      1) How are those ridiculously high maintenance fees treating you? What % increase did you experience the first year?
      2) What did you make of the first year budget deficit and the pathetically low reserve fund?
      3) How long until you have a special assessment, if you haven’t had one already?
      4) Have you been following average ‘days on market’ for WSL listings?
      5) Have you noticed how most people selling at WSL are breaking-even, whereas everybody else in the city makes money?
      6) How many TARION claims have been filed from people at WSL?
      7) How is the heat/a/c treating you, in addition to the plumbing? (Don’t lie)
      8) Did you notice how high the power bills were in the first year, since the developer was stealing power from 150 Sudbury to build 170 Sudbury?
      9) How bad has Urban Corp’s reputation gotten, and how do you think this will affect WSL sales in the near future?
      10) How did you enjoy your 24-month occupancy period, paying ‘rent’ on a unit you own?

      Man, this is getting ridiculous.

      West Side Lofts at 150 Sudbury Street is a running joke in the real estate industry. You might like it, but the market, the buyer pool, and everybody involved (other than residents) do NOT like it. It is the worst building in the city of Toronto.

      I hope you respect my honesty, since I have no problem putting this in writing, and thus I will never get a listing in this building. Show me another Realtor willing to lose business, all in the name of the truth, and helping consumers avoid catastrophic messes like the West Side Lofts.

      As for your take on King West, you’re not wrong. To each, their own.

      But just because you like WSL, does not negate points 1-10 above.

      1. P.P.S.

        There are currently 22 units for sale at WSL.

        I (think) I rest my case….for now…

      2. Krs Hamilton says:

        I appreciate your candidness on WSL, but there are issues in most newly registered buildings. Not just this building. Same goes with builders reputation. Every new building will have it’s challenges and hopefully it can move on from it. Beyond the mess that Urbancorp is, I was highlighting the building’s friendliness and vibe more than applauding urbancorp. I personally liked the “raw” state of my condo that allowed me to make it my own unique unit. I don’t know which units were “break even”, but it might of been one like yours, facing an alleyway on a low floor. Yes, no privacy on a low floor will get you less money and no interest. A unit that’s well finished with an unobstructed view will command more interest/dollars. How many of those units listed on mls are facing the new build directly next door? Exactly.

        1. Chuck says:

          Everyone is friendly in the building because they know it’s like Hotel California and they can never leave because resale sucks. 🙂 Better be nice if you’re all going to live there for a really long time!

  4. AndrewB says:

    These set aside units in these condos that the develops so graciously set aside. What size are they? Cause to be honest, I find it hard to believe a family of 4 is gonna live in a 600 Sq ft box.

    1. ScottyP says:

      Good point.

  5. Frosty Johansen says:

    Hi David,

    I hope that in point (5) you were aiming at Swiftean satire. Otherwise it is the most ignorant piece of Randian claptrap I’ve read so far this week (most parasite-floggiing happens on Mondays).

    Sorry about your friend. Sounds like he could have used good manager. Did he become a real estate agent?

    FJ

    1. moonbeam! says:

      Randian claptrap? hmmm. and what’s wrong with parasite-flogging?

    2. Bojangles says:

      Frosty Jo – I think you need to get your head out of your ass.

      I sincerely believe and hope David was sincere. These entitled hipsters add no value to society.

      I would consider this a component of the ‘Pussification of America’, although we are discussing Canada here.

      Money is the fairest form of resource allocation/value we have. Is it perfect? No. Would you rather have a politician decide who gets what resources? It’s been done before. It is called Despotism.

      You should be ashamed of yourself.

      Work for the TTC, do you?

      1. Frosty Johansen says:

        No dude, I work on Bay Street.

        If I wasn’t ashamed of myself before, I am most certainly NOT now. And I am proud not to share your viewpoint.

        Stay gold! (US$1,384.70/ounce as I write this)

      2. @ Bojangles

        I was being sincere. Was there any doubt?

        Sometimes I’m too sarcastic for my own good, I guess.

        But YES – I was being serious about artists having no real value in society, and I followed it up with this point, which might have got lost in the mix:

        I just remember a conversation I had with a girl who made clay-pots for a living, and she argued, “The world needs clay pots,” whereas I argued that supply and demand should dictate what consumer goods are truly ‘needed’ and had value. I don’t believe that a 21-year-old girl ‘needs’ a $4,000 Prada hand-bag, but if those are in demand, then so be it. And if clay pots aren’t in demand, then why should tax-paying Torontonians be on the hook for a clay-pot-maker’s affordable home?

        1. ScottyP says:

          Echo!

    3. JL says:

      It’s Monday………….had your flogging yet?

  6. News guy says:

    Hey David,

    As a longtime reader of your site who works in the news biz, something irks me about your posts: the copy/pasting of news articles on your blog.

    It’s good form to post the headline and a couple paragraphs of the story and then link out. What you do is copyright infringement.

    Help the Star out (or the Globe, or the Post, or the Sun..) by sending them some traffic and not just stealing their content.

    1. @ News Guy

      I appreciate your insight – this is something I’ve been flip-flopping on for a while.

      A friend of mine who works for a newspaper said that so long as I provide the entire credit (title, author, date), their work can be posted. But another friend asked me as recently as this weekend what the ‘rules’ are regarding this.

      The last thing I want is to be accused of “stealing” content. Believe me, after 7 years and 1100 blog posts, I’ve had my own issues. I need another couple opinions on this as the advice I’m getting is conflicting.

      Anyways, I appreciate you reaching out.

      1. News guy says:

        Give this a read,
        http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr02393.html

        “Copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form.”

        The biggest legal debate is surrounding the word “substantial,” and how much of a copy/paste constitutes substantial. But pasting the entire story is pretty cut and dry copyright infringement.

        In any case, I’m not the Star’s lawyer and this isn’t a cease and desist, just wanted to get that off my chest!

        1. ScottyP says:

          The problem is, if David opted to link the story as opposed to cut-and-paste, fewer people would read the original story. (Don’t ask me why this is true, it just is.)

          It would also make the article harder to reference as we take in the opinions of David and his readers.

          In other words, until the official letter from the Star’s lawyer arrives in the mail, I say carry on.

      2. Kay says:

        Are you also worried about having too many outbound links?

  7. AsianSensation says:

    I remember when artscape was being sold, but could never understand how someone registers themselves an ‘artist’.

    It makes me cringe to think subsidies are going to someone finger painting in their condo instead of a family in need of food and safe shelter.

    1. Frosty Johansen says:

      Finger-painting. Nice.

      Did you bother to obtain the Artscape application? That may have informed you and cut down on unnecessary cringing.

      1. moonbeam! says:

        An artscape application!! who knew!!

        1. Frosty Johansen says:

          I shall consider myself zinged.

          1. @ Frosty

            I like your style and contrarian viewpoint.

            I wish you would post more often!

            Keep in mind, a topic like this NEEDS to be explored from both sides, thus my poking the bee hive. Although I stand by what I said about artists, and to be honest, I have several in my family, and group of friends. I just remember a conversation I had with a girl who made clay-pots for a living, and she argued, “The world needs clay pots,” whereas I argued that supply and demand should dictate what consumer goods are truly ‘needed’ and had value. I don’t believe that a 21-year-old girl ‘needs’ a $4,000 Prada hand-bag, but if those are in demand, then so be it. And if clay pots aren’t in demand, then why should tax-paying Torontonians be on the hook for a clay-pot-maker’s affordable home?

      2. AsianSensation says:

        FJ, thanks for putting down the paint long enough to apply sarcasm to keyboard.
        You’re the BEST!

        1. Frosty Johansen says:

          Thanks AS!!! Let’s be BFFs!!!
          Oh, right, sarcasm. Touché old boy.

  8. moonbeam! says:

    Ha-ha! I too am fed up with the sense of entitlement of artists and other alternative life-stylers who expect & demand cheap subsidized housing….
    if they can’t afford rent, then team up with 2 or 3 or 4 others to split the rent…. In fact, why do poor people expect a place of their own, why not have room-mates?

    1. Frosty Johansen says:

      The thing is, it’s these artists and alternative life-stylers who refurbish neighbourhoods before developers and real estate agents and bankers swoop in and “discover” them. Most of the artists then move on to the next cheap part of town.

      Ask Jeff Stober.

      1. moonbeam! says:

        Refurbish? no they don’t.

        1. AsianSensation says:

          Ha. More like squating!

      2. Bojangles says:

        they dont spend a dime refurbishing.

        In short…bullshit. on. you.

        1. Frosty Johansen says:

          I’ve lived it, a$$wipe.

          1. ScottyP says:

            Does poo on the floor count as refurbishing?

            Some say the fertilizing properties can give a unique, glossy sheen….

          2. Frosty Johansen says:

            Yes, ScottyP, it counts. I can see your reflection in it.

            (don’t mess with the big dicks, boy)

          3. ScottyP says:

            Funny, but big dicks were the furthest thing from my mind.

            Thanks for the advice nonetheless.

    2. Eric says:

      Not all artists have this sense of entitlement you are referencing. Artists work as well, sometimes unsuccessfully. Tough business (depending on what your in). I don’t mind creating housing for lower income citizens, whether that be single mothers, landed immigrants or (horrors!) the ‘entitled’ struggling artist.

  9. BillyO says:

    On the topic of Section 37….

    ‘Most of the Section 37 funds the city has secured has not been spent.

    Of the $137 million in cash benefits that have been secured by the city from 2007 to 2011, $63 million has been received, and only $11 million has been spent.

    The city doesn’t receive any funds until the development is in use, but Moore explains that even once the city has the money, often it remains frozen in bureaucratic processes.

    Sometimes this is due to a lack of communication between the ward councillor who secures the benefit and the various city departments that co-ordinate city projects, such as the parks department or the transportation department. Also, if a city department has other priorities they may not have the time to focus on a new project. In some cases, they may not even be aware that the money has become available.’

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2013/04/25/toronto-section-37.html

    1. ScottyP says:

      Interesting.

      Is it me, or does the $137 million number seem a little skimpy considering our city is now littered with more recent condo developments than any other in North America?

      Our city’s coffers should be filled to the brim, regardless of at what point during the development process the payments are or should be made.

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