Toronto Mayor John Tory makes a p.r. push for cheap housing in Canada

Epics of oilmen prospecting in ancient Egypt, suffragettes making Canada’s first vote for women and dotting New York City’s Empire State Building show this once-forgotten city’s wit and determination. But a new poverty plan, warts and all, would give Canada a good dose of p.r.

If I didn’t know better, I would think that Toronto Mayor John Tory is a proud patriot.

Take one look at his posh apartment at the top of a condominium in Toronto and then hear him talk about the need for more affordable housing.

“There are lots of things we can do within city limits to address this problem, and we need to be innovative, flexible and creative,” the mayor said at the announcement of a $500 million affordable housing plan last week.

But don’t expect this $500 million plan to fly in Toronto. Taxpayers aren’t so keen on having their money spent on luxury apartments at an extraordinary price, especially when the CBC says the cost of that same complex could buy nearly 15,000 units of publicly subsidized housing for low-income people.


Either way, a high-profile newspaper column rightly wondered whether Tory was living “on a paycheque from A&E.”

On the other hand, Toronto-area NDP MP Brad Trost, a veterinarian who sees a second hand home for every animal he sees, was on to something when he said, “The only thing this plan accomplishes is making City Hall a smorgasbord for sycophants.”

Even though an estimated four-fifths of people in Toronto don’t earn enough to afford rent, Toronto city councillors didn’t see eye to eye on a $500 million plan to buy affordable housing units or how to spend the money.

To pay for the new units, the plan got staff to look at all sorts of money from improving transit to technology to spending on some road projects. They even looked at recharging and building some solar panels at city facilities.

Tory was saying we need more affordable housing units – even though a lot of them don’t exist. He said it’s important for the city to build affordable units. He even proposed a program that might change developers’ minds about building such units.

“The provincial government is required to help build units that make financial sense. And the city will pay the difference in rents if we can make them affordable,” the mayor said at the announcement of the new plan.

What the mayor didn’t say was that the province of Ontario, like all governments across the country, can afford to raise taxes to pay for more housing.

Maybe most Torontonians would like to have some affordable housing but they won’t do it unless the government says you can build them for what it costs to build them.

Toronto should demand that the province:

Freeze public transit fares for 10 years

Freeze property taxes for 10 years

Invest $3 billion a year to build more housing for low-income people.

Ontario needs a new development plan.

And I would not be surprised if the plan also includes free building materials, free staffing and marketing help and free insurance.

Loyalists to John Tory may give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s getting it right now and that the plan to build affordable housing is the best idea in Canada.

But again, look at the mayor’s condo. I don’t think anybody living in Toronto city-spaces today could afford that one even with free help.

Annette Hamilton (@HamiltonAnnette) is a Toronto newspaper columnist and the founder of the Ontario Leader’s Club. She served as CEO of several not-for-profit organizations. Her book, Depeache à depeache, A Caplessy Of Noise in New York: The Answer To Forgetting Voices (and Other Problems). was published in 2001. A screengrab from the book contains the title.

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