Toronto developers are scrambling to avoid new rules to house the poor
Toronto city council's adoption of a landmark inclusionary zoning (IZ) policy earlier in November will soon force the hands of developers to build affordable housing into certain residential projects near transit stations, a move that has sent a shockwave across the desks of city councillors and planning staff.
While the IZ policy applies to all new planning applications of a certain size within specific areas of the city, anything proposed prior to the policy's September 2022 implementation is exempted from IZ requirements by the Province of Ontario.
Developers knew that this would be the case, and it appears they have reacted accordingly, getting their applications in early in what one councillor sees as an obvious move by homebuilders to avoid the costly responsibilities looming on the horizon.
It sure feels like bold new developments are being proposed in greater numbers than ever this year. Anecdotal evidence from politicians and data from city planners back this up, painting a much clearer picture of what is happening and why.
City councillors are well aware of this proposal flood, with Ward 15—Don Valley West Councillor Jaye Robinson going on record during a recent city council meeting, alleging that developers were rushing applications to avoid being subject to the IZ policy.
"I'm 100 per cent on board with developers paying their part," Councillor Robinson tells blogTO. "It's long overdue — the inclusionary zoning policy framework — but what's happening now is we're seeing this influx of applications."
Robinson wasn't quite sure what was happening at first, but says she then "suddenly put two and two together and realized it's related to the IZ policy framework, a policy [developers are] trying to circumvent."
blogTO requested data from city planners that could put this spike in development proposals in clearer terms. And oh boy, did they deliver.
According to the city, there were a total of 558 planning applications in 2019, and just a few less in 2020 with 555 – Enough to establish a baseline average for the past few years.
In contrast, 494 planning applications were received by the city in just over four months between August 1 and November 10, the day after the IZ policy was adopted by council. This same period in 2019 only saw 185 applications submitted.
Planners say that there has been a 167 per cent increase in new applications this year compared to 2019.
And while it hasn't been admitted in explicit terms, the deluge of paperwork seems to have planners scrambling to keep up. Applications are coming in faster, but supporting details such as renderings and diagrams seem to be taking much longer than usual to go public.
Planners might not be comfortable discussing such a sensitive topic, but councillors are more than willing.
Robinson is feeling the heat of development activity in her ward, saying, "We received reports from city planning indicating that Yonge and Eglinton area has 28,000 new residential units built, approved or under review earlier this year. And that's not even current."
"In my area alone, we have 20 development applications at various stages of the planning process or under construction, with more on the way," says Robinson. "Our heads are spinning because we cannot believe the sheer volume."
Robinson doesn't mince words when discussing the perceived cause of all these applications, saying, "now we know, it's clearly related to them trying to get in before submitting their tower applications now to avoid this inclusionary zoning policy."
There is also the possibility that the wave of new proposals is creating a ripple effect all the way up to the provincial level.
City staff only have three months to decide on a new application, after which a proposal is eligible for appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal. Planners and city councillors were already hard-pressed to get all this paperwork in order even before the tidal wave broke over city hall this year, and things are only getting tougher.
"The applications aren't comprehensive," Robinson says. "And in some cases, they're appealing before we even get to the public meeting."
"This policy is excellent and long overdue," Robinson stresses, "but now the development community are acting like cowboys and are just pushing these applications without the 't's crossed and the 'i's dotted."
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