The downtown core of Toronto has exploded over the last two decades. Everywhere you look new condominium projects were going up, sometimes at a dizzying speed. This translated into an increase of the downtown Toronto population of more than 20 percent. But who is moving in to these units?
When you consider that more than 80 percent of all the units built in these new condo projects are one bedroom units, it is no surprise that the majority of the buyers are well off singles in the 20 to 40 age group. So where are the families? They have been moving out of the downtown core. With a drop of 6 percent in the 14 and under age group, young families are heading out to the suburbs. However, not all of them want to move out. Given the choice, many families would rather stay in the city but condominiums are either too small or the few multiple bedroom units available are too expensive for the average family. Experts are worried that unless the situation changes soon, we may be headed the route of Manhattan where only the young and wealthy can afford to live in the city core.
Some Toronto city councilors are lobbying to increase the number of family sized units from the current 10 percent. They are also pushing for inclusionary zoning which would give the city the power to force builders to build more affordable units. A decade ago, the average price of a downtown Toronto condo was $226,000 but today, it is more than $385,000. However, a three bedroom condominium in the city core is on average over $600,000. Well out of the reach of the average family of four.
Builders are not happy at being pushed to build larger units. They argue that families would rather buy a house outside of the city for the same money that a three bedroom unit would cost. But city councilors would rather give families the option of staying downtown to raise their family. This would help prevent inner city schools from closing down and would encourage economic diversity. With inclusionary zoning, the city would be able to require that 10 or 20 percent of all units built be deemed “affordable”. The city has requested that inclusionary zoning be included in the province’s affordable housing strategy which is soon to be released.
Inclusionary zoning would not be all bad news for builders. In exchange for including affordable housing in their projects, they would be allowed to build more densely as well as higher. Other advantages would be faster approval process, municipal or provincial grants, etc.
Inclusionary zoning would help keep people of more modest means in the city. With housing prices rising much faster than salaries, this is a middle-class program that young families are eager to see implemented. Along with more choice in terms of numbers of bedrooms and condo sizes, more affordable units will allow for a slowdown of the economic diversity drain that has been happening in the city.