The SEDRA Owl: June 2023

What’s the magic number for new neighbours?
Image: Crane Index, Q1 2023
Contributed by Jeff Latto, SEDRA Board Member and Chair of the TMWG (Tall-Mid Rise Working Group)

We are all hearing a lot these days about the need to build more housing. The Ontario government has set a specific target of 1.5 million news households in the next decade in Ontario. We are told by this government that increasing housing supply will therefore decrease the cost of each unit; these are the rules of the market and the roadmap to affordable housing in the province. So, is Toronto doing its part? And for that matter, is the SEDRA community?
Count the cranes
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the level of activity in Toronto regarding the supply of new housing is to look at the number of residential construction cranes active throughout the city. In a recent (March 2023) publication of Crane Index by RLB (Rider Levett Bucknall) the extent of current construction crane activity in Toronto is compared to other major American cities. The comparison is staggering. Toronto is home to roughly the same number of cranes currently used in all other American cities combined. With 238 active construction cranes in Toronto, 139 of which are dedicated to residential buildings, there can be no question that Toronto is doing its bit to meet Ontario’s housing targets. It would also be safe to say Toronto is doing as much as it currently can in this regard as we know there are roughly 200,000 units of housing already approved in Toronto that have not yet started construction, due to labour shortages, high interest rates or both. 
It’s not the regulations causing backups
Parallel to this current activity, we hear from BILD (Building Industry and Land Development Association) that they are promoting a plan to increase the amount of construction activity so we can get more housing done more quickly. Their four-point plan has been issued to seek out support from mayoral candidates in Toronto. We read within their recommendations a need to further reduce regulations around development and thus timelines for approvals. At SEDRA we know firsthand the reason for long approval timelines is largely due to developers building beyond Toronto’s Official Plan (OP), causing either an Official Plan Amendment (OPA) or Zoning Bylaw Amendment (ZBA), which adds approximately two years to a development application’s approval. Building to the height limits in the OP would greatly shorten approval times. 
In the SEDRA community we are facing a significant increase in our community’s size with current development applications and construction projects currently underway. According to the 2021 Census, our population was 30,754. Of the total of 15,720 dwellings, 3,435 were single family homes. Current construction projects and applications for tall and mid-rise projects (as of May 2023) will add another 8,300 apartment/condo units in tall and mid-rise projects, potentially increasing the SEDRA community’s population to 46,000 residents. That’s an increase of 50% in about three to four years’ time. That’s if all projects are completed… which is likely. 
By now we should all be able to agree that Toronto, and specifically the SEDRA community, is doing more than its fair share of accommodating growth in support of the province’s Growth Plan. SEDRA’s footprint forms one of the four corners of the Yonge-Eglinton Growth Centre, identified in the city’s Official Plan as an area targeted for intensification. Added to this is recent legislation that permits higher development densities around transit nodes (subway/LRT stations). For the most part these new development applications are following the direction set by the province to intensify around transit hubs.
Next, let’s all agree that the lobbying efforts of the development industry are missing the point as Toronto is developing at its maximum rate right now; further reduction in regulations will not deliver more housing than what is currently possible. Targets of 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years is largely academic if the industry delivering the housing (i.e. the development industry) is physically and financially unable to meet the pace of this promise. There needs to be sober discussion on where this new housing is going to be located. Are other communities and municipalities doing their part as much as Toronto and specifically the development-intense SEDRA community? As well, further discussion is needed on the forms of housing that can best deliver on the province’s commitment. Is new construction the only delivery tool available?
For one last thought on this we point to the Canadian Urban Institute’s recently published report on the amount of empty office space in middle-sized Canadian cities and the potential for the conversion of this empty space into. This report looks at a wide range of issues related to this type of conversion: building typology, policy change, and marketability. Unfortunately, the report did not look at large cities like Toronto. However, looking at Ottawa with approximately 2 million square feet of empty office space, the report concluded that this could be converted into 1,500 to 4,200 new housing units. Imagine what Toronto could do with its current 12.9 million sq. ft. of empty office space (CBRE February 2023)? These are potential housing units that require only retrofitting (i.e. not construction), are near good transit, and can provide some relief to suffering downtown retail markets. 
At SEDRA we question the sole dependency on new construction to bring about the housing promised by the province. We believe there are alternatives that need to be looked at, and for us that means continuing to engage with our communities. We all welcome more neighbours – just not at a cost to existing neighbourhoods.
Mark your calendars once again – Candidates Meeting rescheduled for June 22, 2023
FoSTRA-FoNTRA-OCADUCandidates Meeting
Thursday, June 22, 7 p.m.
OCADU Auditorium, 100 McCaul S
t.
Live at OCAD University, 60 residents’ associations will host a public meeting to introduce leading mayoral candidates to the people of Toronto.

The Federation of North Toronto Residents Associations (FoNTRA) and the Federation of South Toronto Residents Associations (FoSTRA) are inviting the residents of their member organizations to attend the in-person event. 
 
Nicole Swerhun of Third-Party Public will moderate the exchange with confirmed candidates:Ana BailaoBrad BradfordChloe BrownOlivia ChowMitzie HunterJosh MatlowMark SaundersNote: committed candidates as of June 9 are shown in bold.
Additional registration information will be distributed shortly.
Free virtual access will be available on OCAD U’s YouTube channel: www.ocadu.ca/live

and FoSTRA Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/fostrato

For additional information, please contact: Geoff Kettel, Co-chair of the Meet Mayoral Candidates event for FoNTRA at: ac.ar1718901908tnof@1718901908etabe1718901908d1718901908