The Cheat Sheet: July 7 & 8 City Council

Cheat Sheet (July 2014)

Monday’s City Council is actually a Special Meeting, and for once it’s not a transit debate that we’ll all walk out of hating everyone and everything. This time, Council will appoint fill-in councillors for Wards 5 and 20, vacant after councillors Milczyn and Vaughan levelled up to MPP and MP, respectively. You might see some familiar names on the list of candidates for Ward 5 and Ward 20. They include former Ford staffer Nico Fidani, cinephile urban legend Reg Hartt, and, uh, me. Yep. After saying on Keenan’s show that you couldn’t pay me to be Ward 20 councillor, I went and signed up, mostly as a joke…but upon consideration, I guess I know this beat pretty well.

The July City Council meeting proper starts Tuesday. (You’ll have gotten a preview of several of these items if you followed my Executive Committee livetweeting.) Here’s the full agenda and the livestream. My picks for items to watch are after the jump!

Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: July 7 & 8 City Council

The Cheat Sheet: June 10 City Council

Tuesdays’s City Council meeting is jam packed. On the agenda: finding a replacement for senpai Councillor Vaughan; access to services for undocumented residents; transforming tower buildings; lead in the water; and more. Did I miss anything important? Let me know.
Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: June 10 City Council

The Cheat Sheet: April 1 City Council

April’s agenda is one of the busiest yet: the Billy Bishop airport expansion, the Gardiner Expressway, Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, and food trucks, as well as annual audits and grants. Plus, you’ll never guess which councillor wants to look into recall legislation…

Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: April 1 City Council

A Very Special Cheat Sheet: #TObudget 2014


  1. A Note: Operating Vs. Capital
  2. First, Some Context
  3. Operating Budget
  4. Capital Budget
  5. The Most Disingenuous Game

I don’t usually do Cheat Sheets for special meetings, but this one is for the 2014 budget! I love the budget!!! The entire exciting process, which started all the way back in November, is culminating this upcoming Wednesday in a meeting sure to be full of delightful surprises, dramatic reversals, procedural confusion, and petty, childish infighting. Continue reading A Very Special Cheat Sheet: #TObudget 2014

The Cheat Sheet: November 13 City Council

In case you’ve been living under a rock: since the last City Council meeting, Rob Ford’s friend, occasional driver, and probable drug dealer Sandro Lisi was arrested on extortion charges; the heavily redacted search warrant was released, revealing (among many other things) the highly incriminating details of police surveillance of the Mayor; police chief Bill Blair announced that police had recovered the crack video; Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack but refused to step down; the Star purchased and posted a video of a highly intoxicated Rob Ford uttering angry death threats; and comments by his brother, mother and sister revealed the truly shocking degree to which they enable the mayor’s substance abuse. Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: November 13 City Council

Park aside

A spring afternoon in Trinity-Bellwoods, at a picnic table with a small bottle of Coke and fries with pepper mayo from Chippy’s. Perfect weather, and the time of day when the sun is so golden it hurts.

Just finished reading Cary Fagan’s City Hall & Mrs. God (Mercury Press, 1990), a vivid tour through Toronto’s richest and poorest echelons as they race further away from each other. Pre-amalgamation. A lot has changed, a lot hasn’t. There are many familiar names.

A trio of chirping robins descends on me, sensing uneaten fries. In the shade of the trees the tightrope walkers are practising.

I ought to be writing things. Most immediately, an ebook on internet privacy, but also just stuff in general, like that essay on urbanism and liberation theology I’ve been meaning to prod into shape. Right now everything is building up to the AMC. After that I can catch my breath.

Poverty infrastructure

In Desmond Cole’s story on the City staff report on homelessness, he concludes,

Toronto’s shelter system was never designed to meet the needs it now struggles to address. According to the report, shelters now sometimes serve as permanent or semi-permanent housing for people who should ideally be in some form of assisted-living housing.

And it occurred to me, not for the first time, that this is a defining feature of our poverty infrastructure, a. k. a. the social safety net. Homeless shelters, food banks, and distress lines were only ever meant to be emergency measures. But all of these services have regular users because there is nothing else there to meet people’s basic needs. Instead of permanent affordable housing, people use shelters. Rent is so high that people are chronically unable to afford food, so they rely on food banks. Because adequate preventative mental health care is inaccessible, they call the distress line number posted up by the Bloor Street viaduct for suicidal jumpers.

It is a strained and unsustainable system that various levels of government, which ostensibly want to wipe out poverty, are slowly divesting themselves of, and “downloading” to private enterprises or individuals.

We have essentially refused to hire family doctors, and if anyone gets sick there is no help until you are in such critical condition you need to go to the emergency room. And because the emergency room is only designed to get you out of emergencies, no one will help you get healthy enough so that you don’t need a doctor at all.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled wankery about transit funding. Good night.

Section 37, Affordable Housing, and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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?