Toronto’s Housing Now program to convert parking lots to affordable housing draws criticism from advocates for more and less density

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The City of Toronto’s decision to turn two Scarborough Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) parking lots into affordable housing has, not surprisingly caused some less-than-enthusiastic reaction.

Parking lot users and neighbours concerned about densely packed “affordable housing” in their areas naturally have expressed concerns about the projects under Toronto’s Housing Now program which Mayor John Tory anticipates will ultimately result in 11 new sources for affordable housing.

The city and its real estate agency, CreateTO, plan to offer developers or non-profit builders $280 million in incentives to build the affordable homes, including relief from property taxes and development charges.

Two open houses have been scheduled to outline the projects. The first will be for the Victoria Park project, tonight from 6.00 to 9:00 p.m. Seicho-No-le Toronto Centre. There will be a meeting about the Warden proposal on Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Warden Hilltop Community Centre.

However, a housing advocate say the planned developments on one of the parking lots – a 705 Warden Ave. — is simply not dense enough to be sustainable and affordable over the long term.

Mark Richardson, technical lead for HousingNowTO, told Toronto.com that more density is “the only way that you can make the math begin to work.”

“I think the city is being incredibly timid in its proposals,” he said.

The commuter lot near Warden Station and another one at Victoria Park Station (at 777 Victoria Park Ave.) would be developed into housing projects with 450 units each, split evenly between market rate rentals and others considered affordable for families with incomes between $21,000 and $52,000 per year.

The challenge is the affordable units need to remain that way for 99 years – and the lengthy term means the projects will only be viable with sufficient density, Richardson says.

HousingNowTO suggests that instead the seven acre site at Warden should be made into a 1,500 unit complex, with 500 market-owned, 500 market-rental and 500 affordable units.

The circumstances at 777 Victoria Park are different, since the site has only two acres, meaning it meets the 200-units-per-acre threshold that HousingNowTO believes necessary.  However, if 705 Warden has just 450 units, the density would be only 63 units per acre.

HousingNowTO also proposes a large-format grocery store be included at the Warden location — something Richardson said the surrounding community needs, Toronto.com reports.

Undoubtedly, this proposal has started to receive pushback from neighbouring residents who would rather see lower rather than higher density development, or leaving the commuter parking lots as they are.

Toronto,.com reports that the program has already drawn objections from commuters who use a lot Housing Now seeks to develop in North York.

One Scarborough resident, Nancy Gaughan, said neighbours of the Warden and Victoria Park sites consider the area to be “overflowing” already, with highrise apartments and more on the way.

“We all acknowledge the need for affordable housing, but we are looking for some real input into the development so it doesn’t adversely affect the surrounding neighbourhood,” she wrote.

Gaughan also questioned how such rental buildings could be kept in good condition for 99 years.

Richardson acknowledged the proposals will face opposition, but he said housing the city’s workforce is more important than preserving “cheap parking.”

The city has typically built 1,000 or fewer affordable units a year, and it would have to ramp up efforts to fulfil Tory’s pledge of 40,000 over 12 years, Toronto.com quoted him as saying.

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