Toronto’s New Planning and Housing Chair Wants To Shake Up The Status Quo
For his second term as a Toronto city councillor, Brad Bradford was chosen by Mayor John Tory to chair the city’s Planning and Housing Committee. Now with that term well underway, Bradford sees the next four years as a chance to help tackle the city’s housing crisis head on with progressive solutions.
Having previously worked as an urban planner for the City of Toronto, Bradford, who represents Beaches—East York, is in favour of sweeping changes that could add more housing supply to the market quickly. Although he acknowledges that getting more housing built won’t be easy, he says the city needs to be open-minded about changing the way they operate, from legalizing rooming houses to using strong mayor powers, when appropriate.
“In my previous four years as a Councillor, the toughest battle I saw us face as a City was that of coming up against the status quo,” Bradford told STOREYS. “We’ve reached a breaking point on housing and it’s time for us to get serious about the kind of changes we need to make to get more housing built for more people in more neighbourhoods.”
Armed with a list of new — and often hotly debated — housing policies that he would like to see passed during the current term, Bradford says he’s optimistic about council’s ability to get it done. A number of those policy goals revolve around increasing density throughout the city– a push that’s been fervently resisted by the NIMBY crowd who tend to support Toronto’s exclusionary zoning practices, restricting the vast majority of lots to single-family homes.
The province has already taken steps to address this, recently passing Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, which allows three units as of right on all properties across the province. And earlier this year, the City of Toronto voted to waive development charges on second, third, and fourth units on a single property in an attempt to encourage more gentle density.
To push the envelope even further, Bradford says he would also like to see increased density allowed on streets with established transit routes, and to finally legalize rooming houses city-wide. The latter has been a point of contention at City Hall, with Tory delaying a vote on legalization to early next year due to a lack of support within Council.
Bradford says he’s optimistic that the current council can make legalization happen, noting that he, the Mayor, and other council members are motivated to push the needle.
“Tackling our housing crisis is going to take both bold change and new ideas that move us ahead from our current approach,” Bradford said. “The good news is that there are creative solutions out there that can help us get more folks into affordable housing faster, but they require an open mind and patience from all parties — the public, the City and our partners at other levels of government.”
Recently granted strong mayor powers, however, will change how Council operates in a way that’s not to be understated. With these newfound powers, granted by the Province in an attempt to get more housing developments approved, Tory will be able to veto Council decisions and propose municipal by-laws that can be passed by council without a majority. Instead, Tory would only need a more than one-third vote to get the by-laws passed.
Bradford says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the strong mayor powers, seeing them as a tool to help bring about positive change “when used on specific files where they can be most effective.”
“It is going to speed things up on issues like housing in particular, when they show promise for helping our City get on the right track to progress,” Bradford said. “There is a lot of concern over how this process is going to reduce our democratic processes and I’m interested to make sure that doesn’t prove to be correct.”
Where Bradford does show concern is around Bill 23’s attack on Inclusionary Zoning requirements. The new legislation lays out a 5% cap on the number of affordable units and a maximum 25-year affordability period. This comes in stark contrast to the City of Toronto’s new inclusionary zoning policy passed last fall that calls for 22% affordable units by 2030, with a minimum affordability period of 99 years. Under Bill 23, cities with policies that go beyond the new provincial caps will have to revise their policies to conform.
“In the current form I’ve seen so far, Bill 23 will result in a cascade of outcomes that will damage Toronto’s capacity to deliver more affordable housing, undermine our efforts for intensification, and ultimately reduce the City’s ability to provide and maintain the critical infrastructure that a growing city like Toronto needs,” Bradford said. “City staff have estimated that Bill 23 will result in a $200M annual funding gap, of which $130M is related to the removal of our capacity to fund and deliver affordable housing programs.”
The Province has also taken aim at municipalities for their lengthy approval processes when it comes to rezoning and development applications. Legislation passed earlier this year imposes strict, tight timelines for municipalities to make decisions on an application, forcing them to refund fees if deadlines aren’t met.
According to a 2020 BILD study, municipal planning approvals in the GTA currently take an average of 15 months to finalize. The new legislation stipulates that if a municipality fails to make a decision on a development site application within 60 days, they would be required to refund 50% of the fee. If no decision is reached within 90 days, 75% of the fee would be refunded. If the decision process surpasses 120 days, the entire application fee would be refunded.
Opponents of the legislation note that the fees pay for City resources to process those very applications. Having to refund even a portion of these fees would, in turn, exacerbate the very thing the Province says it is trying to fix. Bradford notes that although there is some validity to the province’s critiques, municipal approval procedures, as they stand right now, don’t allow for such a quick process.
“Planning staff have been overloaded with work in recent years, whether due to staffing shortages or changes to planning policy,” Bradford said. “There are valid criticisms of the slow process here at the municipal level and the barriers that we create to building new homes where we need them most. There are procedural changes that could and should be made. However, in my role as Planning and Housing Chair, I am focused on how we can use policy to expedite housing development and expand affordable housing options in Toronto.”