Local MPP questions lack of affordable housing mandate in Metrolinx sale of land near Danforth GO Station

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Ontario government is under the microscope after allowing the sale of public land to a private buyer without assurances of affordable housing components.

On March 8, Metrolinx finalized the sale of their property on 8 Dawes Rd., south of Danforth Avenue, to development company Marlin Spring. With discussions dating back as far as October 2022 according to the City’s of Toronto’s Application Information Centre, many in the community are wondering why affordable units weren’t made a more significant part of the negotiation process in the sale of the land at the northeast end of the Danforth GO station, which had been owned by the provincial transit authority Metrolinx.

Local politicians are now asking Ontario’s government to revisit legislation which allows developers to acquire land without keeping Toronto’s affordability crisis at the forefront of the discussions.

Beaches-East York MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon told Beach Metro Community News that the province has the power to mandate a certain amount of affordable housing in new developments but chooses not to do so.

On April 24  at Queen’s Park, McMahon highlighted this issue to her colleagues as she inquired about why the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford did not require Metrolinx, a crown agency, to include minimum affordable housing requirements in their property sales to private housing developers.

The Beaches-East York Liberal MPP also asked why Ontario is seemingly ignoring the recommendations by the province’s Housing Affordability Task Force to require all future government land sales, “whether commercial or residential”, to reserve at least 20 percent of their development for affordable housing.

According to its official website, the Housing Affordability Task Force is “comprised of industry leaders and experts” who “consulted with stakeholders including municipalities and advocacy groups to develop their report”. The Task Force report was put in place to help the government identify and implement measures to address the housing supply crisis by getting feedback through avenues such as municipal and public consultations.

“What is the point of creating this report if you do not take the sound advice of experts,” asked McMahon during the April 24 session of the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park.

Kinga Surma, Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure, responded by saying Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are doing a “very thorough analysis of all of our GO Stations within the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area to see where other opportunities (for affordable housing) exist”.

However, that wasn’t a sufficient response for those wondering why a piece of public land in an essential, high transit area was sold off without guarantees for members of the community who need affordable housing, said McMahon. She said she now intends to submit her inquiries as Order Paper questions which gives the government 24 days to respond in writing.

“We need to have these mandates for affordable housing otherwise people are going to keep moving out of the city,” said McMahon. “We have these major urban centres with entire generations of young people and essential workers who are unable to find rental housing that they can afford.”

McMahon isn’t the only East Toronto politician that has publicly voiced concerns about Ontario’s failure to fight for housing affordability.

Earlier this month, Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher had similar complaints about a proposal at 425-471 Carlaw Ave. (just northeast of Gerrard Street East and north of the railway tracks) which includes a mixed-use podium building with three tower elements at 30, 35 and 40 storeys. The land is an area identified as a transit priority zone given is proximity to the GO Train tracks and the proposed future Ontario Line subway.

On April 12, Fletcher submitted motions at Toronto City Hall that proposed Toronto Council requests the rovince to require a minimum of 20 percent affordable housing on the Provincial Transit Oriented Community (TOC) site at Gerrard/Carlaw for a minimum of 50 years.

“Why is the province not requiring affordable housing at the Transit Oriented Community at Gerrard/Carlaw?” she asked on Twitter.

Toronto Council had approved an Inclusionary Zoning framework which required up to 22 per cent of units in new condominium developments in growing areas to meet affordability standards and remain affordable for 99 years. However, the provincial government’s Bill 23 (More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022) last year made changes that directly contradicted this by reducing affordable component requirements to five per cent.  Bill 23 also shrunk the affordability period from 99 to 25 years while simultaneously changing the definition of affordability to one that is no longer tied to household income.

Currently, Official Plan Amendments in Toronto needed to implement any new affordable housing framework are still awaiting provincial approval as the city does not have any Inclusionary Zoning powers at this time.

McMahon said the chance to put affordable housing requirements into the land sale for 8 Dawes Rd. is a missed opportunity given the ideal transit links it has to both the Danforth GO Station and the TTC Main Street Subway Station.

“We definitely want density along subway corridors – in mobility hubs,” said McMahon. “Main Street is a huge mobility hub.”

The area between Main Street and Dawes Road north of the GO Train tracks is already the subject of numerous high-density buildings being proposed by developers, none of which at this time appear to have mandated affordable housing units included.

McMahon believes the provincial government has failed to recognize that affordable housing in such an accessible area is essential to building a successful city.

Marlin Spring’s building proposal is still going through the city’s application process. Although showing no current signs of having affordable components, representatives for the developer reminded residents during a March 8 public consultation that Marlin Spring is known to have affordable units in other projects.

The application for 8 Dawes Rd. proposes a 38-storey mixed-use building. This development will contain 399 dwelling units – 39 three-bedroom, 109 two-bedroom, and 251 one-bedroom units.

Beach Metro Community News reached out to Metrolinx for comments regarding the sale of the land at 8 Dawes Rd., but has yet to receive a response.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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