Feds want Toronto to do more in exchange for housing cash — the mayor says she’s ready

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser has handed Toronto an eight point to-do list that he wants addressed in exchange for $500 million in federal housing funding — a list Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow says she welcomes.

Fraser recently wrote a letter to Chow, obtained by CBC News, about Toronto’s bid to receive money from the federal Housing Accelerator Fund. In the letter, Fraser outlined a number of things the federal government believes would improve Toronto’s application.

In an interview with CBC Radio’s The House that will air Saturday, Chow says the city is ready to move forward on those measures.

“One hundred per cent ready. In fact, we’ve been negotiating and a lot of what he’s asking for, the housing minister is asking for the right thing and we see eye to eye,” Chow told host Catherine Cullen.

“Maybe it’s a holiday present. Is he playing Santa right now?”

The federal government’s requests of Toronto include higher minimum height requirements and stronger density requirements near transit, a streamlined permitting process, reduction of parking minimums and unit caps for some multi-unit housing, and more four-storey as-of-right zoning throughout the city.

“These changes will increase housing supply, expand housing within walking distance to transit, and facilitate more genuine housing options for the people of Toronto,” Fraser wrote in the letter.

“I recognize that this housing crisis in Toronto has been decades in the making, and it is going to take a relentless and concerted effort to make progress.”

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Chow said she agreed with the need to cut red tape and make changes to boost construction.

Toronto is facing a severe housing affordability challenge. City council has already approved the mayor’s housing plan. That plan includes 65,000 new rent-controlled housing units by the end of the decade.

But only a portion of those projects are already funded, leaving much of the rest of the financial burden to be filled by the provincial and federal governments.

The federal government already has made deals with major cities like Halifax, Calgary and Brampton.

Fraser told CBC News earlier in the week that he believes Chow will support the changes — but she needs city council on board.

“She seems happy to go further,” Fraser said. “We will have to sort out the details. Council will have to demonstrate they share her view that the city should go further to build more homes.”

Chow said she’s confident council will agree with her more ambitious approach when the letter is on council’s agenda next month.

“I’m confident the entire city council will rejoice. On December 13, this letter will be on the agenda,” she said.

Fraser contrasted Chow’s approach to the housing crisis to that of her predecessor.

“When I first saw the City of Toronto’s application, it simply did not meet the level of ambition that we held for the City of Toronto when it came to the Housing Accelerator Fund. Before I had the opportunity to say that to Mayor Chow, after her election, she had taken it upon herself to actually revise their application, to strengthen it and to go further,” he said.

Chow also told Cullen she’s strongly in favour of a renewed round of the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative.

“We wanted to have the fourth round ready now because it’s the best program they have. Very little red tape, it’s immediate, it provides supportive housing,” she said.

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