Putting social housing units in condo towers

Reach for the sky indeed. The socially disenfranchised in Canada’s biggest city may one day be living the high life, courtesy of Toronto’s boom in downtown condominium developments.

An innovative approach to Section 37 provisions could see more residential towers include some form of subsidized housing to aid tenants squeezed out of the highly competitive rental market. Section 37 of the province’s Planning Act gives the city the power to allow developers to exceed height limits for their condo projects in exchange for the provision of some community benefit. While a noble concept, the idea of including subsidized units in newly-built condo towers is still struggling to take off with real estate developers.

If at all. According to figures contained in a report released Thursday by the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG), barely 6% of Section 37 deals between developers and City Hall are historically ever directly converted to housing. The remainder come in the form of parks, public art or various other “desirable visual amenities.” Ten York, a 62-storey tower with a four-storey podium set for completion near late 2016, is one development bucking that trend. The high-rise has 694 condo units, 12 of which will be managed as co-ops by the Co-op Housing Federation of Toronto (CHFT). Stephen Upton, vice president of development and planning for Tridel, developer of the Ten York project, said the decision to include the units enables different strata of society access to downtown living.

He cites no negative response from either buyers or other prospective tenants. “No pushback at all, the buyers realize the people coming in are genuine renters who will be paying to live alongside them,” Upton said. “We were introduced to this concept by Councillor Adam Vaughan and he worked to have the units set aside. “It is a small start for us but one we will be examining in future developments. I think it has very real merit.” Between 2007 and 2011, the City of Toronto entered into 157 Section 37 agreements, yielding a cash component of around $136 million. Not surprisingly, the deals are concentrated in the parts of the city that have experienced the most rapid growth and property development, with the three wards in Toronto’s downtown core (wards 20, 27 and 28) receiving around 53% of the benefits. The other standout is ward 23 in North York, which is also securing a significant share of Section 37 agreements. Tom Cooper, executive director of Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto, says the sheer volume of high-rise developments planned and underway for Toronto gives him hope that more developers will open the way to allocating public housing through Section 37 offsets. “It is very hard to see a downside in these partnerships,” Cooper said, “especially when you realize around 80,000 people are waiting for some form of cheap, subsidized housing in this city. “They are waiting close to 10 years for their chance and every time a developer like Tridel sets aside units to create a mixed income community then a little less pressure is taken off.”

By his own admission Cooper has been in the co-op housing business for 33 years. In that time he has seen a variety of approaches taken to low income housing solutions. He points to two that were the forerunners to Ten York. “The St Nicholas Housing Co-Op at 7 Inkerman has 18 units,” Cooper said, “and from the street nobody would know it. They are fully integrated. “Then you look at the Grace MacInnis on Church, it has 32 units of co-op housing. “This sort of innovative planning began 25 years ago and was called density bonusing and helps those most in need without touching the public purse. The cost is borne by the developer alone.” Cooper is right to highlight opportunities in a city that is heading upwards rather than outwards. Nowhere else in North America are more highrises and skyscrapers under construction than in Toronto.

According to the German building database provider Emporis, Toronto boats 147 such construction sites, more than twice as many as New York City, the centre of high-rise architecture in North America. No other major city in the U.S. or Canada comes even close to Toronto’s — or even New York City’s — highrise construction activity. Vancouver occupies third place in the ranking, with 21 highrises under construction; Montreal follows close behind with just one site fewer. Boston, Ottawa and Richmond (B.C.), the three cities in joint eighth place, have only 12 highrises each being built. Still, so much anticipated available space means it is inevitable that deals will be made to benefit those most in need of a roof over their head. Just how much is debatable because of the sheer inconsistency in ward-by-ward outcomes. Dr. Aaron Moore, author of the IMFG report on trading Section 37 density for benefits, goes so far as to call for a total overhaul of relevant portions in the Ontario Planning Act. He wants clearer guidelines and a more systemic approach rather than the self-administered, ad hoc arrangement now favoured in Toronto. Ultimately, the province will have to decide whether to abolish the Section 37 in its entirety, reform it or find a replacement tool that is more transparent and outside the purview of individual ward councillors. Until then, developments like Ten York will be the exception rather than the planning rule.

Join Our Mailing List




* Required

Upcoming Condos

Lighthouse East Tower Condos M City Plaza Midtown home (Power+Adelaide) Canvas Condos MAX Condos AYC Condos Cosmos Condos 3 Vita On The Lake Brownstone at Westown Phase 2 Unionville Glen Townhomes Sail Condominiums The Southwood By Streetcar Whitehaus Condominiums Sonic Condos York Condos Downtown Markham Daniels Waterfront Lighthouse Condos Briar Hill City Towns The Rosedale on Bloor Condos The Village Residences Pier 27 Condo 158 Front Condos On The Danforth Condos Modern Manors Townhomes Spice Urban Towns on Danforth Rd. Spring Valley Junction Homes Art Shoppe Loft + Condos The Bartholomew Condos Claridge Gate Upper Thornhill Townhomes Vida Condos Lindvest Brownstone Townhomes The Lighthouse Tower Condos Chelsea Maple Station Townhomes Park Avenue Place Condos Beacon Condos Design Haus Condos CityLights on Broadway The Ravine Condos Lotus Condominiums at Bayview Village Harmony Village Condos Soul Condos Minto West Side Condos Marquette Urban Towns The Colours of Emerald City Homes at Don Mills Patricia Homes At Bathurst & Steeles Omega On The Park The Ossington Town Homes Zigg Condos St.Clair West Riverside Square Lofts on Queen Enigma On the Park WQW Condos The Yorkdale Condominiums Vox Esta Gardens The Eglinton Islington Terrace 488 University Canary Park 11 Wellesley St Dundas Square Condos Totem Condos YC Condos Forward Condos Core Condos SQ Condos One Park Place South Tower Garrison Point Condos Aqualina Bayside 2221 Yonge Condos Monde Condos Park Towns Ny2 Condos Casa 3 Condos Harbour Plaza Condos 383 Sorauren Yonge-Rich Condos Musee Condos 155 Redpath Westlake Encore The Opus 365 Church Condos The Mark Condos King Blue Condos The College Epicurean High Park Residences Park Tower at IQ Vero Condos Ten York One Park Place Fashion District Condos Cinema Towers Diva Condos The Britt Residences 101 Erskine Condos Waterways Condo River City 3 460 Yonge 501 Yonge Condos 609 Sherbourne Condos eCondos Carnary District The Carnaby Lofts NIOR Condos SkyCity Condos 88 Scott Condos Eau Du Soleil Condos Tux Condos The Massey Tower Condos Sixty Colbourne Condos TAO Condos Flair Condos Xpression Condos Maestro Condos Grand Palace One Eleven The Brant Park Condos Edge Triangle Park Condos Nexus Condos