Toronto mayoral hopefuls squared off Wednesday in a debate over their proposed solutions to the city’s housing supply and affordability challenges, with candidates clashing over the government’s role in getting more homes built.
Hosted by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario and several other housing sector organizations, the debate at George Brown College heard from the six frontrunners in the crowded race ahead of the byelection voting day set for June 26.
CITY’S ROLE IN HOUSING CRISIS
With sky-high rents priced higher than $2,500 per month for a one bedroom and average home prices pegged at around $1 million, Toronto is a case study for the housing issues plaguing cities across Canada.
Experts have pointed to the need for more supply as one means to help address housing costs.
All the mayoral candidates on Wednesday appeared to agree that Toronto needs greater supply of housing to meet demand. However, they disagreed about how the municipal government should be involved in the process of building more homes.
Olivia Chow and Mitzie Hunter presented plans that would see the city play a role in building more affordable housing supply.
Hunter, a former Liberal MPP, said she would have the city build homes on land it owns to ensure units are affordable and priced below market.
“We cannot give everything over to developers to solve for us,” she said. “This is something we have to do ourselves.”
Former NDP parliamentarian Chow said her plans also include a role for the city to build affordable housing. She said her priority is to build units that have rents geared to tenants’ income, but she supports buildings that include multiple types of units and a range of housing options.
Opponents were critical of that approach, however, arguing for less involvement from the government.
City councillor Brad Bradford said he would strive as mayor to reduce “red tape” that he argues has slowed down the process of approving new builds. He suggested city-as-developer plans would “build more bureaucracy.”
Former police chief Mark Saunders was also opposed to what he called “adding another layer of government.”
Former deputy mayor Ana Bailão said she would prioritize working with non-profits and other players in the housing sector to create more options for people. She also proposed establishing a “land economist” role at the city to figure out how best to approach the supply issue, accusing her opponents of having plans that “don’t add up.”
“We need to have real plans for a real crisis that we have on our hands,” she said.
City councillor Josh Matlow argued that city rules should be adapted to make it easier for homes to be broken up into multiple units and eliminate fees for such changes.
Candidates also clashed over property taxes, some arguing they would be a crucial avenue to getting more housing supply built.
Chow said she would raise the land transfer tax on home purchases higher than $2 million in order to fund her planned program to build more rent-controlled and affordable housing. She also said she would use revenue from the tax on vacant homes to support her plans.
Matlow also said he would raise property taxes two per cent above inflation in order to improve services, including housing programs, as the city faces a major budget shortfall.
The other candidates said they were concerned about raising taxes, with Bradford and Saunders expressing worry that it could drive people to leave the city.