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Toronto Election 2023

What the front runners have in store for housing

After nine years under Mayor John Tory, the City of Toronto is set for fresh leadership. After the former’s surprise resignation, the 2023 by-election for the municipality's top brass has been set for June 26th – and a new crop of mayoral hopefuls are bringing plenty of promises to the table.

As is no surprise to Torontonians – many of whom struggle to afford shelter in the city – the cost of both real estate and rental housing is one of the hottest topics in the Toronto election.

In fact, according to an Ipsos survey conducted by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), 84% of respondents said they’re concerned about their ability to afford to live in Toronto.  The same percentage reported being worried about their ability to buy a home (91% among actual likely buyers), while 90% expressed concern over the affordability of rental units.

The same survey found 54% of respondents give Toronto’s current council a poor grade on what they’ve done to improve affordability thus far. Perhaps most notably, 89% say the next mayor needs to make housing affordability a top priority.

An additional recent study conducted by also finds that home buyers in the city need an income of $217,000 just to qualify for a mortgage on the average-priced home.

And so it’s no surprise that anyone serious about winning the election has come out swinging with their housing promises. Let’s break down the measures the current front runners pledge to bring to the table.

Olivia Chow

Currently leading the pack with 31% polling (according to Liaison Strategies), Ms. Chow appears poised to take the top job by a long shot. The former city councillor for Ward 20 and the now-abolished Ward 24, as well as NDP MP for Trinity-Spadina, she has a long resume when it comes to Toronto’s political landscape and civic life.

This is also her second time running for mayor; after an unsuccessful campaign in 2014, she then took up an academic role at Ryerson University. In addition to her lengthy experience as both a Torontonian and politician, she has additional recognition for being the widow of Jack Layton, who served as the leader of the NDP from 2003 until his death in 2011.

Olivia Chow’s housing platform

A self-professed long-time renter, Ms. Chow has released a robust housing platform largely focused on building new supply geared toward families of all income levels, including:

  • The creation of 25,000 homes over eight years, tapping into the 8,400 properties (and 28,000 acres of land) currently owned by the City of Toronto. Using the city’s CreateTO arm as the developer, and working with the construction sector and non-profits, the new housing would include a minimum of 7,500 affordable units, including at least 2,500 rent-geared-to-income units.

  • Raising Toronto’s vacant home tax from the current 1% to 3%, with the additional proceeds to go towards affordable housing projects.

  • Upping the Municipal Land Transfer Tax for homes priced above $3 million, with the proceeds going towards programs that support people experiencing homelessness.

  • The creation of a Secure Affordable Homes Fund, which would invest $100 million toward stopping renovations by purchasing, repairing, and transferring affordable rental apartments to non-profits to preserve them as affordable rental.

  • Doubling the capacity of Toronto’s rent bank to 5,500, and strengthening the existing RentSafeTO program and Tenant Support Programs, which fight evictions and above-guideline rent increases.

  • The establishment of a Toronto Renters Action Committee to increase the presence of renters at City Hall, and their input on decisions around anti-renoviction bylaws, rent control, and other relevant policies.

Mark Saunders

With 38 years under his belt at Toronto Police Service – including being Toronto’s first Black police chief –  Mr. Saunders has a platform that doubles down on improving safety for Torontonians, including plans to bolster transit security and addressing the city’s mental health and addictions crisis (including cancelling the decriminalization of drugs for youth and adults).

He also promises to cancel a planned $30-million in spend on bike lanes, and redirect funds to TTC safety, park cleanup, and programs to support people experiencing homelessness. He is currently tied in second place with former Scarborough—Guildwood MP Mitzie Hunter, each polling at 14%, respectively.

Mark Saunders’ housing platform

  • Rapidly increasing the approval process for developers proposing residential construction to just one year, in order to get more supply built faster. He proposes the designation of one city staff member who will be dedicated to facilitating applications through the approval process, thereby “removing the silos between departments at city hall”. This would also include a system of “performance measures” to hold builders and the city accountable for progress.

  • Beefing up the skilled trades workforce in the city by working with local unions, as well as the federal and provincial governments to encourage more people to join them, and that the current immigration system supports today’s skilled labour needs.

  • “Unlocking” more housing rental projects via a “last mile” grant program that would top up funding for projects in need of loans, in partnership with the federal government.

  • Change the current requirements for the Housing Now program, “which make it very difficult for builders to get financing to build affordable housing.”

  • Work with the provincial government to make it easier for non-profits to secure loans from Infrastructure Ontario for new rental housing projects without the need for municipal guarantees.

  • To bolster supply, he’d permit one to two more floors to be built per rental or condo building, or up to 20 more units, when possible.

  • Waive property tax for affordable housing units in future developments.

  • Encourage the federal government to waive HST on new large-scape purpose-built housing projects.

Mitzie Hunter

The former Liberal Scarborough-Guildwood MPP – who resigned her post in order to run for mayor – Ms. Hunter has some serious political chops, having also been the associate minister for the Ministry of Finance, and the provincial Minister of Education. She also held the position of deputy leader of the Ontario Liberals, and even mulled over a potential candidacy for the party’s provincial leadership this year.

A long-time Scarborough resident,  Ms. Hunter has been especially vocal about improving transit for the former borough and improving affordable housing supply, along with the city’s green spaces and playgrounds. She has plenty of experience with the latter, having held a previous post as the chief administrative officer of Toronto Community Housing. She is currently tied with Mark Saunders in second place, according to polling which positions her at 14%.

Mitzie Hunter’s housing platform

  • Create 22,000 new units of housing over 108 new developments on city-owned land,  two-thirds of which will be earmarked for market- or below-average market rental rates. Six thousand of these units will utilize a “shared equity” model – similar to the federal First-Time Home Buyer’s Incentive –  that will allow homeowners to offset the purchase price via a loan from the city, in exchange for a 50-50 equity split.

  • Provide $100,000 in low-interest loans to pay for renovations or additions to aid in the creation of multi-plexes.

  • Permit rental apartments of up to eight storeys high on major streets and near campuses, as well as speed up building approvals and construction times.

  • Establish a “Taking Action on Tower Renewal” plan, which will offer $35-million in annual funding for repairs in Toronto’s older buildings, including “quality of life” items like better elevators, improved community spaces and on-site parks and playgrounds.

  • A three-point plan to reduce homelessness, including opening 24/7 warming and cooling centres, and adding 400 new shelter beds, as well as doubling the capacity of street outreach programs, with the goal of moving more people experiencing homelessness to permanent housing. She also promises to create 2,000 new supporting homes with permanent funding for on-site supportive services.

  • Expand the Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) Program which supports vulnerable rental households to maintain their homes.

Josh Matlow

Currently in fourth with 11% polling, the sitting councillor for Toronto’s Ward 12 has put forth a challenging and wide-spread agenda, tackling hot-button issues such as rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway’s eastern portion, and refusing to use “strong mayor powers” if given the top job. Previous attempts at office include a run as the Ontario Liberal Party candidate in the 2022 Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey byelection, which he lost to Progressive Conservative Premier Ernie Eves.

He won his seat on City Council in 2010, and has handily held on to it since,  re-elected in 2014, 2018, and 2022.

Josh Matlow’s housing platform

With a housing plan totalling $407.6 million, Mr. Matlow pledges to create “livable, affordable neighbourhoods” with a focus on reducing the cost of housing, easing homelessness, and improving urban infrastructure such as schools and parks.

  • Create and fund a new city agency called Public Build Toronto that will put $300 million toward building 8,250 new rent-controlled market-rate apartments, as well as 6,750 that will be considered “affordable”, on city-owned land.

  • Approving nine-storey buildings “as-of-right” on applicable avenues, with no terraced step backs or “pyramid” requirements that restrict the number of units.

  • Allowing up to three rental units to be added to existing residential properties, as well as establishing a dedicated staff of City lawyers, architects, and planners to ease the process.

  • Lowering the property tax rate for purpose-built rentals to incentivize developers to build more.

  • Dedicate $50 million toward the purchase of at-risk apartment buildings so their ownership can be transferred to non-profit organizations in order to preserve them as affordable rental.

  • Review density and height limits on major arterial roads where it makes sense to accommodate more people.

The bottom line

Regardless of who you may throw your support behind at the polls, the most important thing is to get out and vote for change that may materially improve Toronto’s housing crisis. For more information about the 2023 Toronto By-Election for Mayor, including all candidates as well as how to vote, check out the City of Toronto’s website.

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