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Where will the next generation live?

May 2, 2017

I don’t blog very often these days. That’s partly because I’m busy. But it’s also because I hardly need to: the topics that are closest to my heart now make headlines on a daily basis. And few are closer to home than this question: what are the policy solutions that could keep downtown Toronto affordable for the next generation?

That was the topic of a blog I wrote back in 2011, and that’s the topic of my upcoming Jane’s Walk,, Where will the next generation live?” 

It’s a two-hour tour in my east-end neighbourhood. It used to be an ordinary working class district. But there is no place now for the working class, or even the middle-class young men and women who grew up here.  

Are there answers on the street?

There are if you look for them. Suites above, below and behind. Non-profit and co-op houses that were bought for a song — and can now be leveraged to create new homes. And then there are the local solutions we can’t see: community land trusts, fair rents, “tenants first” rooming house regulations and 21st century zoning.

These are some of the topics I hope to talk about on Saturday. I don’t pretend to be an expert. But I’m willing to share what I know, and pose the questions in hopes that someone on tour will know the answer. That someone might be you!

Come and join us.

The tour starts this Saturday, May 6th, 10 am in front of Roden School, 151 Hiawatha Road, just north of Gerrard, between Coxwell and Greenwood.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2017 3:32 pm

    We also desperately need fully barrier-free housing. The Older Women’s Network’s “Living in Place” campaign calls for the Ontario Building Code to be changed to make it mandatory that all new multi-unit residential buildings be universal design.

    Universal design will accommodate anyone of any age or ability, going beyond mere accessibility. It demonstrates an underlying commitment to including as wide a range of users as possible.

    Anyone can have been born with a disability, and anyone of any age can be struck by illness or accident which creates a temporary or lasting injury.

    Over 4.4 million Canadians (one out of every seven) live with some form of disability. That’s a substantial group of possible buyers who are generally overlooked by builders.

    There is a misperception that universal design costs a great deal more than conventional design. However, in fact, the cost of universal design in housing is less than 1% more when planned from the initial design stage.

    The Living in Place© campaign has been endorsed by Toronto City Council.

    Learn more: Thea Kurdi, an Architectural Accessibility and Universal Design Specialist, explains
    http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2016/ah/bgrd/backgroundfile-94585.pdf

  2. May 2, 2017 3:49 pm

    Unfortunately, the housing problems in this city will not be solved by a few laneway houses, basement apartments or anything like that – at best, the solutions that add a few houses only delay the inevitable.

    This is like the proverbial Gordian knot – or what be an issue of thinking outside the box.

    The problem is population growth – compounded by limits on the supply of land that have been designed to limit sprawl. Geography is also a factor in that Toronto and Vancouver both have limits water- but Vancouver has mountains so that even without regulatory limits, land supply is limited.

    This is basic economics – when the supply of something is fixed, but the number of people is increasing to increase demand, of course the price has to go up. And as we stop building detached homes due to the lack of land and can only build up using apartments and condos, then the percentage of dwelling that are ground based declines from, say 50% to only 25% if the population doubles, and of course, the rich can outbid everyone else, so we go from the richest 50% being able to afford a home to only the richest 25% being able to afford a home.

    The fundamental question to ask is why we need or even want rapid population growth in the GTA. We take it as a “given” when it is anything but a given – births exceed deaths, but most population growth is driven by immigration. there is actually a net outflow of people from Toronto to other parts of the province or country – as more immigrants move in, more of the existing population leaves – particularly older people who can cash out or no longer need to stay here once retired.

    If the population was stable or growing very slowly, prices would drop – prices are set by supply and demand, not only for what is needed today, but out of speculation that land prices will continue to increase because the population will continue to increase.

    Even without the Green Belt and if we allowed sprawl to continue, prices would rise. the standard model in land economics posits that land values at the edge are equal to the price of land for agriculture – as the city physically expands and distances to the centre increase, travel becomes more time consuming and difficult, and the price at the centre increases – as do all prices as the edge of the city creeps ever outward.

    And so there is a speculative component, even apart from foreign money. If you are an investor and know that the population of a city will not expand at all, you would expect that prices would only rise with inflation and/or incomes. But if you knew that the population of a city was to increase by 50% over 30 years, then you know you can expect a large capital gain if you hold for the long term, and so people bid up the price of land today – no different than if you were to buy a retail store on a main street expecting that you could rezone it in a few years for a profit when you sell it to a developer.

    Population growth has other costs besides higher land prices and rent. It also stretches our infrastructure to the limits – we need to spend billions on transit to accommodate population growth – the transit we are building will not reduce the number of cars on the street because the capacity is needed merely to keep up with population growth, and likely we will face more congestion as well as longer times and more crowding on transit… plus higher taxes since transit requires subsidies to operate.

    Immigration policy is of course controlled by the federal government – it is a shared responsibility with the provinces under the Constitution. Even if the country as a whole needs 320,000 new people per year, which is double the per capita rate of the US, there is no reason why having most of those people settle in a few cites makes sense… other cities in Ontario, like Windsor and on the Niagara peninsula, have cheap housing and lots of underutilized land and infrastructure.

    As population has increased, areas that were once blue collar are being gentrified – because the price of other homes are already out of reach of the white collar workers who earn more than blue collar workers – on top of the widening inequality and lower wages for unskilled labour. The poor now often live in the 1960s highrises that were once middle class when rent control kept the prices down – these older buildings are now undesirable given the lack of air conditioning and the fact they are old, unlike the condos for that are preferred by those with a little more money.

    Housing is complex, but at heart, issues of supply and demand are critical to any analysis… the construction industry and developers are building record numbers of units, yet cannot keep up with demand – even though there are still many condo sites already zoned.

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