Toronto’s new mayor has introduced controversial legislation to ban rooming houses and hotels, a move that’s been roundly criticized in the media and amongst political analysts, but one that a source close to Mayor John Tory has told me was well-received at Queen’s Park.
Multiple sources close to the negotiations between Tory and his provincial counterparts have told me the meeting was friendly, fruitful and cordial. They provided me with the following picture of the importance this issue held to the Ontario government: “They care about this. These are big issues. It was necessary that the province was taken out of the conversation as much as possible. They don’t want to get into a confrontation.”
How did the warring factions get to this point? Housing critics, particularly in Toronto, have always warned that the changes would drive tenants out of the city. Housing activists in Toronto believe the solution to homelessness is by increasing supply rather than curtailing supply. In December, Leader of the Opposition Andrea Horwath said she wanted the Ontario government to develop a specific plan for each area. Tory is expected to ramp up the rhetoric about plans to protect vulnerable tenants on the campaign trail, right now.
Complicating the change is the partnership between the Progressive Conservatives and the city. They love bragging about how good it is that the Tory administration has done a better job dealing with Toronto’s homeless than the Liberals did. Former Ontario minister of housing Bob Chiarelli said so in March, just before becoming Tory’s economic development minister. “We have turned things around with the number of new residences for people who are living in social housing,” Chiarelli said at the time.
The move was seen at the time as shocking, because it was seen as a reversal of the city’s commitment to the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which drew criticism for selling the city off the city’s entire supply of social housing to investors. In 2015, the Tories kicked the city out of the Major Urban Area Homelessness Strategy, arguing they should be able to craft their own plan on their own. The Tories attempted to use that move to put pressure on Toronto to bring in a plan for their city, even though the city government is pushing forward with their own plan. The timing of the plan, and the public pushback, struck many as odd.
The city is expecting to receive no federal money for the proposal, meaning they’re looking at additional investment from both the province and private developers. It’s a massive partnership and investors want to make sure the deal stands.
The lack of affordable housing is a global crisis and the city is trying to be a leader on the subject at the global level. Housing advocates say the timing of the move seems suspiciously timed. “The Tories are trying to make a lot of noise about homelessness before the election so they can say this is a national and international problem. It’s not,” says Rosario Marchetto, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Toronto Poverty Action. “They are not helping to solve this problem at all. They are part of the problem.”
In June, the council passed the first reading of the ban. Every single tenant protection group in the city opposed the motion, arguing that the legislation would either force tenants out of their homes or cause developers to dump large projects onto an already overburdened city.
The second and final reading of the legislation will be in September. The city says they are still waiting on province-level plans before starting construction. John Tory told the Toronto Star that it will take several years to complete the project, and by that time he will hopefully be gone from Toronto politics.