The Toronto mayoral election is just days away, and candidate Gil Penalosa is hoping his big ideas that would add much-needed housing to the city and ramp up transit will win the public's vote.

Penalosa, the founder of 8 80 Cities, a non-profit advocating for accessible, inclusive cities, wants to fix Toronto's housing crisis with what he's dubbed a "renovation revolution." The multi-prong approach would involve a number of transformative initiatives, including ending single-family exclusionary zoning citywide and allowing as-of-right construction up to six units, depending on the size and height of the property.

"People are leaving Toronto because they cannot afford to live in Toronto," Penalosa told STOREYS. "Eighty percent of the land in Toronto is zoned for single family houses, and that is that is terrible because it's almost all of the area and it houses very few people. So what I'm saying is that people will be allowed -- not only allowed but they will be promoted -- to subdivide their homes."

The allowances would cap the number of units per floor to two, meaning a property would need to have a three-storey building to have six units. To support these conversions, Penalosa plans to leverage the federal National Housing Strategy for homeowner loans and will set up a one-stop-shop office providing help to owners who want to add new units. Penalosa hopes that these zoning changes will help to keep more of Toronto’s seniors in the neighbourhoods they currently live in by creating more affordable options.

"Our friend, he is an empty nester now, and he and his wife, they want to age in place but they cannot," Penalosa said. "They have a big house and it costs a lot of money, and the City does not let them divide it."

Another part of Penalosa's plan that has the potential to add more units to the city quickly is the legalization of rooming houses, or multi-tenant houses. It's an issue that has been contentious within City Hall for quite some time, with Mayor John Tory saying the motion does not yet have the support to pass in Council.

For those building new homes, Penalosa plans to offer a financial incentive in the form of dropped development charges. If elected, he would remove development charges -- — a fee paid by the developer at the time a building permit is issued — for five years.

Although the single-family zoning change and multi-tenant houses would quickly add density across Toronto neighbourhoods, the majority of the density increases that Penalosa is advocating for would occur around transit. On main transit streets, he wants to allow as-of-right height equal to the width of the road.

"So if the road is 30 meters, they can build 30 metres," Penalosa said. "Developers are going to be very happy and they're going to be able to build much faster and cheaper because they will save three to four years of lawyers and negotiations."

For Penalosa, transit and housing go hand in hand, referring to them as two sides of the same coin.

"We cannot have housing without transportation, and we don't have transportation without housing," Penalosa said.

To that end, as Mayor, he would introduce a perhaps controversial plan to cancel the rebuilding of the Gardiner East. The rebuild, approved by City Council seven years ago in a 24-21 vote, would see the stretch of the Gardiner from Jarvis Street to the Don Valley Parkway moved 100 metres north. This plan, with an estimated cost of $919M over a 100-year period, was selected over a $461M plan to tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway and replace it with an eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard.

Penalosa would like to go back to the idea of creating at-grade boulevard, which he says would open up enough land to build 8,000 new homes.

"The Gardiner is the biggest fiasco that Tory has had," Penalosa said. "It's really a symbol of irresponsible spending.... On top of that, it is a worse option because if you rebuild it, you are creating a gigantic wall separating the city from the waterfront. Instead, when you do a boulevard at-grade with wide sidewalks and protected bikeways and trees and benches and crosswalks and so on, you are integrating the waterfront with the city."

Penalosa also hopes to quickly ramp up the city's public transportation with what he has dubbed "FastLane Quick Fixes," introducing 62 kilometres of bus rapid transit to the city. On these routes, riders would pay their fare in advance and would travel in dedicated lanes.

"We've got to remember that what makes public transit fast is not if the wheels are rubber or metal," Penalosa said. "It's if it has dedicated lanes, if it's prepaid, and if it's an easy in and out."

These changes, Penalosa says, would be cost-effective and could bring rapid transit to areas like Scarborough that are lacking when it comes to public transportation. Penalosa's FastLane plans also include creating signal priority for dedicated and non-dedicated streetcar lines, and lowering fares to $1 for riders who receive Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program, a Child Care Fee Subsidy, or Rent-Geared-to-Income Subsidy.

When it comes down to it, Penalosa says he wants to create a Toronto for everyone, where the city is accessible and benefits residents both young and old.

"We need to have it good for everyone, and I think that I have the experience and the leadership that Tory or none of the other 30 [candidates] have," Penalosa said. "I think that we need a mayor that has the vision, but also will be able to do the action and has the guts to make the decisions that need to be made."

The Municipal Election is Monday, October 24. Find your polling station here.

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