Walking around town these days, you would be hard-pressed to find a fellow Torontonian who doesn’t have an opinion on their city’s high-voltage housing market.
The realization that the average price of a detached home has reached over $1 million has meant significant gains for long-time homeowners, worth half as much a decade prior. The tone somewhat changes when speaking with first-time homebuyers, or relocating professionals looking to put down roots in the GTA. With Prime Minister Trudeau stating earlier this month that Canada’s housing market is indeed ‘a real drag’ on the national economy, the temperature to this contentious issue has reached fever pitch.
There are a variety of theories as to why this has occurred. Some explanations include, an apparent foreign investment presence, a boom in population coupled with the lack of sufficient housing supply, and the introduction of the Ontario Greenbelt.
One theory in particular, stating that much of the demand coming from new and prospective homebuyers are looking to buy and live in complete communities – areas that are safe, accessible, vibrant and numbered – stands out. Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat shares this sentiment. In an article published in 2015, Keesmaat maintains that family homes are still relatively inexpensive on Toronto’s peripheries and have not increased in lockstep with Toronto’s housing boom. Prices are, however, climbing highest in more urban neighbourhoods. A recent poll from RBC and the Pembina Institute states that more than 80 percent of GTA homebuyers prefer to live in transit-accessible communities and walkable neigbourhoods. These are the homes that Keesmaat suggests we are in such short supply and must create more of.
So how do we do this?
Keesmaat’s prescription is simple. Land must be used more efficiently and provide for more infill housing in our most urban neighbourhoods. We could take this a step further, by using better planning to proactively create more coveted pockets of our city to live in, for all Torontonians.
If we currently have an abundance of these lovely urbanized villages in our wonderfully diverse city, than we need more of them – either through gentrification or grassroots planning. Is there a way to multiply the recent occurrences of the Junction and Roncesvalles Village, or the current transformations to Bloordale or Regent Park?
Keele and Finch Plus, a community planning study being carried out by the City of Toronto in the next couple years is an example of what could be done. The neighbourhood, which is soon to be the home of a Subway and LRT, has a real shot at developing into something great. The study will aim to plan for the right kinds of growth and investment to the area, listen to stakeholder concerns and ideas, and direct investments into broader community improvements.
Shaping cities and communities, encouraging the development of more neighbourhoods where people want to live, consequently increases the right type of housing supply and can be the answer to our housing question. Achieving a more accessible housing market will take all of us – residents, bureaucrats and developer alike – and with our combined effort, just maybe, we can effect change to the discussion over housing affordability.