The city touts its progressive policy on affordable housing, but that doesn't mean homeless folks can expect new digs any time soon. Here are five examples of how good intentions can get mired in the muck.
|By the numbers |
Number of sales of surplus property completed by the city since 98: 282
Total value of property sold: $147,803,290 (not including 2004)
Number of city dollars committed to affordable housing last year: $28 million
Number of surplus properties used for affordable housing projects since establishment of city's Housing First policy in 2000: 13
Number of affordable housing units city has committed to building each year: 2,000
Number of affordable housing units city has actually built: 473 over the last three years
Number of affordable housing units approved by council in the last three years: 2,000
Proportion of these that are completed and occupied: less than a quarter
Number of families currently on the waiting list for affordable housing: 73,000
Number of people who sought refuge in shelters last year: 32,000 (4,779 of them children)
Selling to the highest bidderThe city forcibly relocated 11 non-profits formerly housed here, including the YWCA and several black-focused orgs, to other city-owned property to push through its sale to an Ontario numbered company for a cool $8.7 million. A Victorian at 100 Charles Street that's attached by underground tunnel, and a vacant strip immediately to the north were also jettisoned by the city for $1.8 million and $1.4 million respectively. Community groups were only occupying a quarter of its 56,000-plus square feet, so the remaining space would have been a natural fit for a mix of social and transitional housing. Alas, the original deal to purchase fell through, and the property is now on the open market.
Not in my backyardTTC-owned properties are typically the most difficult to convert to affordable housing, because they're usually located near major transit lines. As well, the cash-strapped TTC is eager to get as much as it can for them on the open market. Plans in 1996 by the TTC to demolish the historic barns for residential development on this 4.3-hectare site caused a public outcry. Councillor Joe Mihevc has been working on a mixed-use proposal, including an arts centre, greenhouse for the STOP food bank and between 20 and 30 live-and-work units for artists, as part of a development to revitalize the area. But massive opposition from locals to anything but green space has quashed any hope of affordable housing. Yet another good example, housing advocates say, why a requirement to give 25 per cent of any space to affordable housing should be written into every call for proposals on TTC-owned property.
Caught up in red tapeThe good news is that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has expressed an interest in buying this former cop shop from the city to temporarily house Regent Park residents who will be displaced by massive redevelopment. But a couple of obstacles need addressing before this site can be converted into social housing. First, the lands on which the building sits were originally expropriated, and under the Expropriations Act, the original owner gets first dibs on the property. Also, under the Municipal Act, council must obtain at least one appraisal of the market value of the property, which makes selling it to TCHC at a cut rate less likely. Historically, the city eagerly cashed in on lucrative properties. Of 228 properties on the declared surplus list as of December 2003, 177 were slated for sale.
Residential rough rideThis property has been declared surplus since at least 2002 - two of the eight units are currently occupied. It's one of 14 residential properties on the current surplus list that could easily be converted to usable social housing if the city had the political will. But the city prefers to sell its residential holdings - usually acquired because of unpaid property taxes - unless new density can be added. The city is also keener on projects that don't involve parting with land. Of the eight affordable housing projects currently onstream, none involves surplus land. This property has been on the market since April, and adjoining properties have already been sold. It was part of the Regent Park area's affordable housing plans before neighbours got in the way in another of the those "everyone's for affordable housing in someone else's ward" cases. Of the 378 affordable housing units approved for development on surplus properties in recent years, only 153 have actually been built.
38 St. Lawrence
Housing hopes lying vacantThe city sold this vacant swath between King and Eastern to Habitat for Humanity at below market value to build 10 townhouses. A higher-density proposal would have been better, but more often vacant land held by the city is either transferred to other departments or put on the market for sale. Of the 19 land transfers of city-owned property since January, one (a vacant lot on Birchmount) was transferred to the city's Let's Build program. The city often says the high price of land is an obstacle to affordable housing, but a whopping 133 of the 180 properties currently on the surplus list are vacant lots, a few of them large enough to accommodate sizable developments. The city usually sells these lots to developers or adjoining property owners assembling lands for bigger projects - and in the process invites the kind of condo development that displaces low-income housing stock. There's also a $10 million cap on the value of city land that can be used for affordable housing. The province and feds aren't helping matters by failing to come through with promised funding, leaving 12 current projects in limbo.