The big-ticket item will probably be a new motion to cancel previous plans to replace the SRT with light rail and instead build three subway stops, which won’t go as far, will serve a smaller geographical area and less people, cost about a billion dollars more, and run at a loss. But who’s counting? Since the province is apparently willing to indulge us…siiiigh Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: July 16 City Council
or, I Read the City Council Agenda So You Don’t Have To
Now, I make no claim as to what the big-ticket items will be; but here’s my roundup of items of interest coming to City Council tomorrow. Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: June 11 City Council
The agenda for the upcoming City Council meeting (next Wednesday and Thursday) is out! Some items of interest:
Adam Vaughan is real mad that the Campaign Compliance Audit Committee decided not to go after Rob Ford’s campaign overspending and he wants everyone to know.
City staff are working on making the affordable housing waitlist suck less.
Getting rid of that bylaw mandating that cyclists ride single file.
The Ombudsman has looked into the City screwing over community groups leased properties at below-market rent.
Josh Matlow wants condo advertising to make clear that new developments are by no means a done deal.
It’s a constant source of rage and despair for me to see glass condos and “luxury townhomes” going up around town while the affordable housing waitlist stretches to record numbers. (161,266 people total [PDF] as of January, in case you were wondering.) And, as you know, Bob, since all those new developments mean more Section 37 funds,
—oh, what’s Section 37? Basically, the zoning rules say what kind of stuff you’re allowed to build, and if they say you can only build a tower 6 storeys high, and the developer wants to build one 12 storeys high, Section 37 of the Planning Act says they have to pay some extra money that offsets the extra load on local infrastructure, or goes to benefit the community.* Like, streetscaping, or a daycare, or something.
It’s not a tax because that’s not allowed; the money doesn’t go into some citywide pot because that would make it a tax**; the exact amount, and the nature of the benefit, gets worked out with the city councillor for each development. Anyway—
I naturally wondered if we couldn’t kill two birds with one stone and use Section 37 money for affordable housing. It’s totally an approved use. They can build it elsewhere in the neighbourhood, or they can set aside units in their condo. Because the current rules about it are kind of restrictive, the Planning & Growth Management Committee asked the city planners to revise them so it’s easier to do.*** And today, yes, today, they are talking about it at the committee meeting!!!****
I went to a very interesting open house on this back in November, where the planners explained the upcoming changes. You can read the report yourself to see what bits they’ve added (bolded here). From the list of possible incentives:
i. purpose built rental housing with mid-range or affordable rents, land for housing, affordable ownership housing, or, at the discretion of the owner, cash-in-lieu of affordable rental or ownership units or land;
j. a maximum of 20 individual affordable rental units, located in a registered condominium, provided the units are owned and operated as rental housing by a registered non-profit housing provider satisfactory to the City and meet established criteria, including securing through an agreement the maintenance of affordable rents for at least 25 years and rental tenure for at least 50 years. Such units will be deemed to be rental housing notwithstanding the definition of rental housing that would otherwise exclude condominium-registered units.
(However, after public consultation they’ve decided to remove the cap on rental units, and take another look at the 25- and 50-year requirements (some people think that’s too long; others, not long enough). None of this is written in stone yet.)
So, what’s the problem here? Why aren’t we all jumping for joy? What are some of the possible drawbacks of this approach?
The York Quay Neighbourhood Association thinks that “the affordable housing shortage in Toronto is so acute that we foresee all future Sec. 37 funds flowing towards this desperate need” (PDF), which is painfully adorable, you just want to ruffle their hair. WHO’S A GOOD CONCERNED CITIZEN. YOU. YES YOU ARE. GO FETCH. As a planner present at the open house told me, affordable housing, which calls up stereotypes of bedbug-ridden welfare scroungers bringing down property values, is “poison” to developers. The councillor has to push for it, and the developer has to agree to it, and because it’s something negotiated rather than mandated, you can’t make either of them do any particular thing. Developers make less money if they have it on-site, and they think it’ll bring down the property value if it’s built off-site. Councillors are inclined to side with developers as well; nobody wants to be seen as unfriendly to business. There are a few councillors who consistently negotiate for more housing in their wards (Vaughan, Wong-Tam), but that is entirely because they feel like it. There is no way to make, say, Doug Ford get a developer to opt for affordable housing rather than daycare.
(Can’t we make rules about this stuff? you might ask. Short answer: it’s called “conditional zoning” and “inclusionary zoning” and it’s up to the province, which has taken absolutely no action on it despite the fact that they’re theoretically in favour of it and people do keep putting forward motions and such. Write your MPP.)
Similarly, you can’t say how many units have to be set aside. Nor, it seems, can you add a clause saying “not all of the crappiest units, either”. That all is settled on a building-to-building basis. There’s nothing keeping anyone from setting aside a handful of terrible condo units for the non-profit and calling it a day. It’s too scattershot an approach to help the vast numbers of people who are inadequately housed.
The even deeper problem, which City staff are totally not rushing to point out, is that “affordable”, as the city planners are using it here, doesn’t actually mean, you know, affordable. Most of us hear “affordable housing” and think something like 30% of gross income, TCHC waitlist, bedbugs, etc. LOL NO. Note the inclusion of “mid-range” rent and “affordable ownership”***** in the guidelines. And “affordable ownership” doesn’t mean, like, those programs at Regent Park. “Affordable ownership”, as we were told at that meeting, means average sale price. Dear everyone, do you think the average Toronto home’s sale price is affordable?******
And lest you think I’m just pulling shit out of my ass, ACTO (Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario), who are slightly more in touch with reality than the YQNA, also point this out in their letter (PDF). They also note that over the past sixteen years, only 1,589 “affordable” units have been secured as rental housing. And over half of those were “mid-range” rent rather than, you know, actually affordable. If you think that slightly expanded guidelines will dramatically change that…I’ve got a bridge to sell you. They’re not gonna make a dent in the affordable housing waitlist, which is sitting at about 87,300 applications.
This is the main problem with using a planning tool never intended for the purpose to secure, you know, a basic fucking human right: case-by-case negotiations relying on individual goodwill (but mostly capitalism) will never, ever, ever replace legislation, policy, and investment in infrastructure. Like, ever.
* If you’re wondering how a community benefit takes the weight off local infrastructure, the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations feels your pain (PDF).
** It would be wonderful if all city councillors understood this but they don’t.
*** They mentioned two cases where condo units were set aside for affordable housing:
- The Charlie, a condo near King and Spadina, where four units throughout the building are to be owned and operated by Kehilla, a Jewish affordable housing nonprofit
- Artscape Triangle Lofts in Liberty Village, where 20 of the live/work artist spaces are rentals and the rest for sale
Such cases didn’t count as Section 37 benefits at the time, but under the new rules, they would. This would ideally allow more affordable housing to be created.
**** Ideally I would have finished this post in, like, November, but ehhhhhhhhhhh~
***** Who the hell is the affordable ownership lobby? Who’s in their pocket? I really want to know.
****** If your answer is “yes”, 1. fuck you and 2. shouldn’t you be reading Toronto Life?
After I got out of my holiday depressive slump I managed to get off my ass and accomplish a few things. I resolved to be more conciliatory and politic, and even made it a few days before ranting about white-centric feminism or something. I cancelled my Rogers internet so I can switch to the cheaper ISP TekSavvy. I cleared my inbox. I made a doctor’s appointment. And—biggest of all—I applied for a credit card!
The thing about being broke, you see, is that you make terrible financial decisions. I could barely afford to buy things with my debit card, so why would I take on debt I certainly couldn’t pay off?
But a credit card opens the door to so many other things. I can buy stuff cheaper online. I could get a drawing tablet, for instance, that would let me do illustrations on commission and earn money on the side. I can buy cheap glasses. I can replace my ailing netbook. I can get a smartphone!—The smartphone was really what convinced me. Because right now I’m on a prepaid plan, and you can only get a good deal on a smartphone if you are on pay-after, which requires a credit check. And you can’t have credit, good or bad, if you don’t have a credit card.
I won’t be able to pay off the entire balance at once, but I can definitely do minimum monthly payments. And that’s an acceptable cost to take on, because I need to maintain a level of healthy debt in order to live like a Real Adult.
And yes, this is a metaphor for the budget and why we shouldn’t be afraid to borrow money, because this city could be so much more awesome if we were willing to invest in big things, rather than tightening our belts and scrimping and saving and settling for the cheap bread at No Frills. Have you ever had that bread? It’s dry and flavourless and unsatisfying and only $1.97. You can only go so many years on that bread before you put your foot down and say I want more. I deserve more. I’m going to get out of this miserable pit, somehow.—wait, where was I? Oh yeah. So I was talking about the budget, but also about my current situation. Increasingly I feel disconnected from the #TOpoli crowd. It’s hard to express how viscerally worried I am. I wish I could talk intellectually about debt ceilings and GTA property tax rates, but I’m afraid…
No, of course it’s not the end of the world. That’s the problem. These things aren’t often drastic or dramatic. We’ll just accept a little more anxiety, a few more aggravations. “The people want change“—for those at the bottom, the currents pass us by, there’s no change at all. When things are precarious you can’t afford to take chances. There’s less margin for error. Every resource you have—a spot on the waitlist, med samples from the doctor, someone who can stay home to watch your kid, an all-night bus route—you’re counting on, and if one doesn’t come through, it throws everything into disarray. And it occupies your thoughts constantly and you just want to explain to people what it’s like and we can’t wait another moment for housing/daycare/transit…
But, in reality, you need to be able to do both at once. You still have to talk politics the way the men, the journalists, talk politics. Be smart the way they want you to be smart, and witty, but not at their expense, and they’ll listen to you, and take your advice on those things you know about. It’s cynical, but you can’t afford to insist on having the conversation on your own terms. You can’t pour your heart out so you let it drip a little all the time into everything you do. That’s the idea, anyway.
Wednesday, June 6, City Council meeting 24
Recap of this morning:
A bunch of councillors throwing hissy fits over the injustice of paying 5¢ for a plastic bag in a perfect microcosm of how conservative governments dismantle themselves by becoming so inefficient they’re not worth having around.
How this got started:
Berardinetti proposed having businesses donate the proceeds from the plastic bag fee to suitable groups, like environmental organizations.
This wasn’t a total dick move, so other people on the Executive Committee added a bit about rescinding the fee altogether.
(So wait, you may say. Are they proposing to get rid of the fee and donating the profits from the fee, in the same motion? Isn’t that kind of confusing? Yes, yes it is.)
And then Perruzza floated the idea of going in the other direction and banning plastic bags (as some cities have done), which made everyone freak the fuck out.
Ridonkulous arguments floated so far:
- Scrapping the bag fee kills jobs at plastic recycling plants (Del Grande)
- Dog poop!!1!!11 (Lindsay Luby)
- If fee proceeds are donated to charity, people will buy EVEN MORE bags (Shiner)
- Grocery stores aren’t giving out paper bags, so… (Di Giorgio?)
- The bag fee is bankrupting corner stores and enriching big chains like Loblaws
As I type, the debate is still going on. FUCK EVERYTHING I’M GOING OUTSIDE.
Yeah, so that post I did is totally a thing now. It magically became a thing thanks to Steph Guthrie and her fearsome organizational skillz. There’s going to be two panel discussions on women in Toronto politics (because there were too many awesome people for just one) — here’s the description:
- On May 23, The Comment Section panelists will discuss how women’s voices figure into conversations about Toronto politics and municipal affairs. This panel will identify Twitter as a key medium through which these conversations take place, but also address the many other spaces in which political conversations occur.
- On May 30, The Front Page panelists will examine how female players in the political sphere are discussed on Twitter, in the media, and elsewhere. This panel will analyze the nature of political conversations about women, and the influence that these conversations exert on women’s political action and expression.
Oh, and also I’m on the May 23 one (just typing it makes me nervous already). You can now register for tickets; it’s free. Yeah.
This is actually footage from a #TOpoli pub night
#TOpoli, we need to talk. This has been bothering me for a while now, and since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I may as well take this occasion to point out that our burgeoning scene is one big white dudefest. And white dudefests suck. But luckily there are small, practical things we can do to fix this, which is good, because I would hate to totally fucking snap and destroy you all with the burning rage of a thousand Nunziatas.
Monday, March 5, City Council meeting 19
The Story So Far:
- January 17, 2012: In an unprecedented victory, left-wing and centrist councillors get together and vote to reverse most of Ford’s proposed budget cuts. Getting cocky, they think about bringing back Transit City, the previous mayor’s transit plan that Ford strongly opposes.
February 8, 2012: At a special council meeting, TTC chair and (up till now) Ford loyalist Karen Stintz spearheads a motion to basically reinstate Transit City, which passes with a decent majority. Team Ford would fire Stintz if they could, but the rules say they can’t.
February 21, 2012: Five Ford-friendly members of the TTC board call a special meeting and fire the TTC general manager Gary Webster instead. This is a bad move, and the other four councillors on the board are pissed.
March 5, 2012: Council votes to dissolve the TTC board and put together a new one, which happens to include the minority of TTC board members who voted not to fire Webster (this includes Stintz), plus some centrist and left-wing councillors. Council then votes Stintz back in as TTC chair.
For those keeping track at home, this is the third failed attempt by Team Ford to get back at Stintz for Transit City. But there’s more: there’s another special council meeting on the 21st where they’ll be making decisions about transit on Sheppard. (The mayor and others want subways; the plan calls for light rail.)
The title of the post refers to what Cllr Giorgio Mammoliti actually said at some point yesterday. Yes, that apparently came out of his mouth with no irony. It’s only a slightly more fucking ridiculous version of what Cllr Denzil Minnan-Wong and Cllr Michael Thompson have said at various points in the past few months: they believe transit should be depoliticized. Which, I mean, I live and die by “the personal is political”, so you can guess how I feel about that. It’s horrible because everything is fucking political, and “depoliticize” basically just means “pretend it’s not political” or “our politics don’t count as politics”, which is bullshit—
—and if it’s not that, it’s some kind of libertarian shit, like, the government shouldn’t be in this business, which is also bullshit. Doug Ford said as much during last Sunday’s radio show when he was spouting off about how “taxes are evil” (yes, another thing that actually crawled out of someone’s mouth)—he said the government should be providing services, not creating jobs (damn the economy!). But apparently those services don’t even include transit. These people’s ideal government is basically a glorified utility company. No wonder they lack long-term vision.
And I realize the entire point of this enterprise is to get inside government and tear it down but I can’t help remembering another feminist soundbite: “Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one.”
Don’t like politics?
DON’T. FUCKING. BECOME. A. POLITICIAN.
I’m writing to encourage you not to fire Gary Webster. It would mean paying out an enormous severance package (about $500,000) just to intimidate City workers and to further politicize the civil service. Webster is bound by professional honesty to serve the Mayor by advising him on the facts as they are and not how we would like them to be. Further, his duty is not only to the Mayor, but to all of us—so he must act in the public interest whether or not that aligns with Ford’s mandate.
Firing people because they can’t honestly agree with you is irresponsible from both a financial and an ethical perspective. Please do the right thing.