Another piece of public land sold to developers with no affordable housing commitment; Region of Peel & Mississauga ignore ongoing crisis
Late December 2021, Metrolinx, Ontario’s regional transit agency, sold a 1.48-acre parking lot directly across from Port Credit Go Station, to a development group.
The land at 30 Queen Street East will be turned into a high density residential condo property with direct underground access to a new transit hub where the Hurontario LRT will travel north from its base on the Lakeshore East Go Train line. There is no promise of affordable housing.
A report by Cushman & Wakefield Ltd. shows the development was an interest of Metrolinx in 2015.
(Cushman & Wakefield Ltd.)
Edenshaw Queen Developments Ltd., a partnership between two companies, will build the project on Mississauga’s first internal commuter rail line, where planning experts have said affordable housing should be located, so those who rely on direct transit access most, have viable options to live nearby.
The City of Mississauga, Region of Peel and provincial officials say no plans were secured to guarantee affordable housing, with local officials initially claiming they were not informed by the Province of the opportunity, before walking back the claim.
It’s another missed opportunity for the Region of Peel to start chipping away at the staggering list of residents waiting for affordable housing help.
Both the City and Region were aware Metrolinx was selling the land in April 2021 but neither made a move to acquire it, even to turn around and sell it to a developer, with requirements the City could have demanded for affordable housing. The Ontario Realty Directive states that when property publicly owned by the Province is no longer useful to the public body that used it, the land must be offered first to public institutions and other recognized entities on a list before putting it on the open market.
Edenshaw has already invested in three previous condo developments in Port Credit, recently.
“The entire Edenshaw team is thrilled to be embarking on this very significant development, and as a long-time Port Credit resident, it’s particularly meaningful to me, and the many Edenshaw staff who grew up in the neighbourhood, to be participating in the positive growth of our community,” David McComb, the company’s president, said in a statement released July when the land deal with Metrolinx was being worked out. “We look forward to working with our partners Windsor Private Capital and Metrolinx in bringing this prominent, landmark site to fruition.”
A civic square will also be built on the location.
The list of public institutions who are given an opportunity to buy provincial land before it is put on the open market includes municipalities, school boards, post secondary institutions, not-for-profit corporations and Indigenous communities. If no interest or commitment from a public entity, non-profit or Inigenous group arises, Metrolinx is able to list it to private buyers.
“While the prospect that the land could be sold by Metrolinx for development was raised with staff, formal notification of the sale of the land was only given to the City in early April 2021, shortly before the land was sold,” Andrew Whittemore, commissioner of planning and building, told The Pointer in an email. Addressing the issue of asking the Province to negotiate with the private buyer to guarantee some affordable housing, he said, “Mississauga does not have standing to dictate the terms of the sale of provincial land.”
The Region of Peel’s chief planner, Adrian Smith, said, “When the developer submits a request for planning permission, they will be required to include details of their intentions relating to housing mix and affordable housing at the site.” He said the Region is trying to work with private builders to help address the housing crisis. “Currently, the Region requests that any large-scale housing developments in Peel demonstrate how they are contributing to housing targets.”
It’s unclear what “housing targets” means and whether or not this includes affordable housing, as defined by the Region’s own criteria for affordability.
Smith added the Region’s Official Plan will be finalized this year and will include some policies to ensure affordable housing in large developments.
Since neither municipal body attempted to buy the land in April, the two are at the whim of the developers. Both can advocate for a percentage of units to be affordable, but the developer is free to build what it wants under the relevant zoning allowances, since no criteria for affordable housing was established in the sale agreement.
“It’s important to note that once land is owned by the private sector, the City has limited tools at our disposal to require private developers to build affordable housing on the land that they own,” Jason Bevan, director of City strategic planning, told The Pointer in an email.
Further confirmation from Metrolinx explains the City has been aware of the availability of the land for years.
“In this case, Metrolinx has been in communication with staff at the City of Mississauga about the sale and development of this particular parcel of land since 2015,” a spokesperson told The Pointer.
The transit agency could have set a contingency on the purchase of the land requiring the buyer to build a portion as affordable, but did not. According to Metrolinx, its mandate “is to deliver and operate transit.”
“Building and expanding transit requires significant investments. That’s why Metrolinx is mandated and has an obligation to the province to unlock as much value as possible for provincially owned lands,” a Metrolinx spokesperson told The Pointer.
This approach underscores an inherent contradiction in the agency’s decision making. Officials have repeatedly said major transit corridors should not price out those individuals who need affordable housing and access to transit most.
Yet, at the same time, Metrolinx says it has to “unlock as much value as possible for provincially owned lands,” meaning profits outweigh the public need for affordable housing, especially along high-order transit corridors where housing prices are particularly out of reach for those who depend on public transportation.
The property is located directly beside Port Credit Go station and is on the route of the future Hurontario Light Rail Transit system, steps from Lake Ontario and the bustling waterfront community, which has become one of the GTA’s most sought after housing markets.
Edenshaw Queen Development Ltd. has another high rise building started directly across from 30 Queen Street East.
(Natasha O’Neill / The Pointer)
Its prime placement would have offered an ideal opportunity for the Region to ensure affordable housing.
“That’s why, when large surplus Provincial and Federal properties become available for redevelopment — such as this site — they should require a specific affordable housing component or give municipalities a mechanism to require a portion of such sites be reserved for affordable housing development,” Bevan said.
The lack of movement on the Region’s part is the latest in a string of broken promises in the past few years.
With housing prices skyrocketing, there has been even more pressure on governments to commit to solutions, but few have been effective.
“The federal government has claimed that housing is a human right, something which I subscribe to as well,” Nabeela Irfan, a member of the Peel Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), told The Pointer.
“But that mantra hasn't panned out materially. And I feel as if each level of government keeps passing the buck on this housing crisis, and nothing's really getting done,” she said.
As a member of the Port Credit community, Irfan saw the potential for the land at 30 Queen Street East, a five minute walk from her apartment complex.
“This is a huge lost opportunity, because none of these units are going to be affordable,” Irfan said. “What's likely going to happen is you're going to have people that have money, i.e existing homeowners that are going to purchase the units, and they are going to rent them out as an investment property.”
The Region has two affordable housing plans on the go; the first is on life support. The Home for All plan was promised in 2018 to create 7,500 new housing units per year until 2028. The Housing Master Plan (endorsed in 2019) paints a more realistic picture for 5,650 rental units, 226 temporary support units and 60 shelter beds by 2034.
A previous article by The Pointer highlighted the targets for when new units were supposed to be completed: in 2022 no units are scheduled to be finished, partly due to the continued refusal of elected officials at regional council to commit adequate funding for housing. Since the Housing Master Plan was approved, the Region has constructed a tiny fraction of its stated target, with only 234 affordable housing units coming online, and has supported the completion of 90 units by third-party providers, a spokesperson from the Region told The Pointer previously in an email.
In 2023, approximately 500 rental units will be created, if the goal is reached. The Region is also planning for 60 new shelter beds next year, but these are only replacing existing beds and will not add any additional spaces. At the time of the 2020 Housing Master Plan update there was no location given for the new shelter project.
According to previous reporting from The Pointer, no new units from the Region’s Housing Master Plan are coming in 2022.
(Natasha O’Neill / The Pointer)
To create affordable units, the Region’s Housing Master Plan explains it will require, “encouraging non-profit and private developers to build rental stock that meet the affordable housing needs within Peel.”
In June of 2020, a report from staff showcased how little the Region had been able to do on its own. While council endorsed the Home For All Plan two years prior, approving a mix of 7,500 housing units a year for 75,000 over a decade, only a tiny fraction of the promised units had been built.
“The 10-year Peel Housing and Homelessness Plan (2018-2028) identified that more than one in 10 new homes that are built must be affordable to low-income households to keep up with forecasted growth – since 2018, less than one in 2,600 new ownership homes built have met that threshold,” the June 2020 report stated.
It also explained how dire the situation was, with rental and ownership prices being out of reach to 80 percent of Peel households, and that was before costs spiked over the last two years.
Land near higher order transit stations would have been the perfect opportunity for Peel to ensure more affordable units.
Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko told The Pointer in an interview the land that will now likely be used for high-priced condos was a missed opportunity.
“Unfortunately, we didn't get it. So I'm just hoping that we can all work together in a collaborative way to do what's right for the community,” he said.
Dasko acknowledged the fact that Metrolinx was able to sell the land they own without adding any clauses for affordability.
“It certainly would have been my prerogative that they would have put some terms and conditions attached to it and also stuck to some of the requests that we've put out with regards to parking and affordability,” he said.
The housing situation in Mississauga and the broader Region has deteriorated quickly over the past few years. Updated reports at council meetings show even more people are dealing with precarious housing or are slipping into homelessness.
In a late 2021 Regional Council meeting, Peel Alliance to End Homelessness (PAEH) shared a bleak future outlook if nothing is done on housing affordability soon. Through a recent study completed by the organization, PAEH found that without enhanced investment for affordable housing the region could see a 25 percent increase in people suffering chronic homelessness over the next year.
In the same presentation PAEH told council that every year an estimated 89,000 people are in need of core housing, meaning their current living situation is either unsafe or far beyond affordability in the Region. Its study also concluded 14,977 people are at risk of becoming homeless, 2,804 people need transitional housing and 701 are chronically homeless each year.
These grim facts were given to council after staff reports showed how the subsidized housing waitlist grew by 50 percent from 2019.
The City and Region understand how desperate the situation has become but have taken few steps to actually help solve the problem.
The 30 Queen Street East property is just the latest example.
One tool at the disposal of Mississauga and Peel is to adopt inclusionary zoning (IZ), this could be applied to certain properties/developments within the city and would require a certain percentage of new units to be for affordable housing.
Toronto recently took the bold step to force builders to create a minimum percentage of affordable units and a mix of housing options through its inclusionary zoning amendment in November. Builders and development groups aggressively opposed the move, claiming lost revenues will simply be recouped from buyers of market rate housing.
According to a Planning and Development Committee meeting on January 24, Mississauga staff presented an update on the feasibility of IZ, but there seems to be little appetite in Mississauga and Peel to stand up to developers who despise IZ.
“Staff are currently seeking authorization to return to the Planning and Development committee in Q2 2022 to hold a statutory public meeting,” a City spokesperson told The Pointer. “Final adoption (of IZ) is targeted for early Q3 2022.”
If enacted, IZ can only be applied to any development or land near major transit stations according to recent changes made by the Progressive Conservatives in 2019. Part of Bill 108 (More Homes, More Choice Act) restricted cities from issuing IZ policies to all areas, and only allows the option on areas around transit.
If the City had issued IZ, the land Metrolinx sold to the developers would require a percentage to be affordable.
But the policy, unlike in Toronto now, is not in place.
“Peel ACORN has much bolder demands, we want 20 to 30 percent of every new development, regardless of where it's situated in the city, to be affordable,” Irfan told The Pointer. “There are people of all incomes living across the city, low and moderate income people are not just confined to major transit stations.”
Until IZ is in place, Mississauga and the Region will have to play catch up and advocate strongly to the buyers of 30 Queen Street East. According to Daniel Bitonti, who works in Mayor Bonnie Crombie’s office, she will attempt to “encourage” the developers to accommodate a wide range of households and income levels.
Unfortunately, the track record of politicians “encouraging” affordable housing in new developments has not been effective.
For example, Lakeview Village, which will also be built on land previously owned by the Province, where back and forth between The Lakeview Community Partners (the consortium of developers building one of the largest waterfront projects in North America) and the City resulted in a commitment for only five percent of the units to be affordable. But when the details were reviewed, the Region said the definition for affordable will not be met for most of the designated units under the agreement as they will still be far out of reach for low income earners.
Of the roughly 8,000 units in Lakeview Village, approximately 400 will be deemed affordable under the developer’s definition, which includes 50 “artist units”, 50-80 “off-site” units and only 140 to 230 onsite affordable units.
“While the purpose-built market rental units are desirable in providing rental tenure units at more affordable prices, the rental rate for market units would not meet the Regional definition of affordable housing,” a Peel Region housing report that addressed the agreement, stated. Only 1.7 to 2.9 percent of the units would actually be affordable, and some of them might not even be on site.
Council threw in the towel for more units. The original ask was ten percent for affordable housing.
“I just want the community to be rest assured that we tried our best and you feel that what's been contributed in terms of number of units is in line with what we've been receiving elsewhere,” Mayor Crombie said at the planning and development committee meeting in November.
What is being received elsewhere, for affordable housing in other development projects, is clearly not enough, considering the number of people on the housing waitlist, and all the others who are not on the list but can not keep up with the skyrocketing housing costs. Staff’s recommendation was conclusive: without legislative power to mandate the units, five percent was, “a fair amount.” But many of the units will not actually be affordable.
“This is essentially the city asking if they [LCP] would be willing to provide affordable housing and so we looked at what we've been getting and the five percent of the overall development reflects, I think, slightly better than what we're usually getting in other development applications,” David Breveglieri, a planner in the planning and building department for the City of Mississauga, said. He failed to point out that a large chunk of those 400 units will not actually be affordable.
It was another example of the private sector buying public land, then pursuing huge profits with little regard for the very public who owned the property originally.
If the development by Edenshaw Queen results in another project built on land previously owned by the public, with little benefit for those residents who need help the most, it will signal the continued lack of interest Mississauga’s and Peel’s elected officials have in actually solving the affordable housing crisis.
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