The SEDRA Owl: November 2023

A conversation with Josh Matlow
Image: Ward 12’s City Councillor Josh MatlowImage Credit:
A number of local residents’ associations, including SEDRA, have come together to bring you a series of short informational pieces that are designed to build context and stay informed about decisions and conversations that have an impact on our local neighbourhoods. Today’s feature is the second of three articles by freelance journalist Maryam Siddiqi – We hope that this short Q&A with Councillor Matlow inspires you to learn more about important things happening in our city.
Interview by Maryam Siddiqi Josh Matlow, Ward 12’s councillor, is a new member of the Planning and Housing Committee.He’s overseen some intense growth and density in the Yonge and Eglinton area, and at the same time, in the development community has a reputation for challenging them. Here, he speaks about priorities for the City and PHC and offers suggestions for improved community consultation. 

What are your thoughts about what the new administration should accomplish, and in particular, what the Planning and Housing Committee can contribute?
It’s a very clear priority for the Planning and Housing Committee and this administration to focus on housing affordability. It’s a recurring concern that I’ve heard from people in literally every neighbourhood in the city.There’s a number of things that need to be done to ensure that there are different types of housing and different options for people based on their budgets. That’s something that I know the Planning and Housing Committee intends to tackle. It’s not an easy challenge, but it’s necessary.That being said, while we focus on housing, we simultaneously need to focus on quality of life – that there is sufficient school capacity in our neighbourhoods, and parks, social services, infrastructure and transit, that our quality of life needs to keep pace with our growth. For me that’s going to be a priority this term. 

Is the committee aligned on that?
No [laughs]. I mean, there’s going to be different people with different focuses and interests. We need infrastructure that’s reliable, and open space and park space to play and be well in, and all that together I think is good planning. So I will continue advocating for a more holistic way to plan our communities. 

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to affordable housing?
It’s a compilation of lots of bad decisions. The vast majority of decisions that affect planning are made at Queen’s Park. The City is subject to whatever legislation the Ford government decides on, and often it learns about it when it’s announced – it’s not even consulted in many cases.We need a combination of things. We need to promise to bring back rent control, there needs to be investment by both provincial and federal levels of government into a range of different types of housing, whether it be rent geared to income or deeply affordable. I think the City can match what the federal government has done on relieving GST by looking at how to use property tax and development charges with more flexibility to incent the kind of development that we want. For example, if a developer is willing to build purpose-built rental, then we should be looking at lowering property tax or being more flexible with DCs. If a developer is willing to build a building with several deeply affordable units, then that application should be fast tracked. 

Are there any plans to facilitate the development of more student housing?
What the city can do is encourage conversations between developers that are building near universities and the universities themselves, and work with them on putting forward plans that include student housing. I can tell you that that is happening, and I do expect that there’s going to be more student housing coming down the pipeline.When it comes to community consultations for development, they can appear to behandled in a perfunctory manner with thoughtful input ignored. What can be done toimprove transparency in the consultation process and return public trust in the outcomes?I’d like to see planning staff return to in-person meetings. There’s nothing like meeting in person and having conversations and engaging with each other. You don’t want to lose the benefits of online meetings, though, so I think it should be hybrid, as it helps with accessibility for some. And I think the City staff could do a better job at explaining to the community how their feedback could contribute to planning staffs’ recommendations that they ultimately write in their final report to City Council. 

Recent provincial changes to planning legislation have significantly reduced timeframes for city review of development applications and the opportunities for residents to participate in the review. Do you have any suggestions for how residents can contribute to ensuring the city gets the housing and development that it needs?
The changes that the provincial government made makes it impossible for the City and the applicant to have an iterative process with the community. What’s happened now is that nobody’s happy. The City isn’t happy, the communities aren’t happy, and even many of the developers aren’t happy. I’m actually actively working on building a case to take to the provincial government for reversing the changes that they made that has led to very arbitrary and restrictive timeframes on the development review process. 

Beyond writing letters and deputing at committee meetings, how can residents or RAs more effectively contribute to city building and work better with the committee?
Engage with your local councillor and engage with the process. Ultimately, it comes down to elections. If we keep electing provincial governments that don’t give a crap about our communities, it’s not surprising that we end up with the legislation that we do.RAs can both object to what they disagree with, but also come forward with the kind of ideas that we should all be advocating for.