Earlier today, Mayor John Tory and Councillor Ana Bailão—the City's housing advocate—announced the City of Toronto's new Open Door program, a new initiative to fast track the development of affordable housing across the city. Joined by Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, Tory and Bailão announced an initiative that would free up surplus public land, accelerate planning approvals, and provide financial incentives—included waived or decreased development fees—for projects committed to bringing affordable housing to the market. 

Open Door program, City of TorontoAna Bailao, John Tory, and Joe Cressy (l-r) introduce the Open Door program, image by Stefan Novakovic

Speaking at Block 36 North in the Railway Lands (beside CityPlace at the intersection of Iceboat Terrace and Queen's Wharf Road), Tory announced the first five publicly-owned sites ear-marked for expedited planning approvals through the City's Gold Star process, bringing a total of 389 affordable homes to the market (below).

Open Door program, City of TorontoThe first five sites ear-marked for accelerated development, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

"We need to do everything we can to build more affordable housing in Toronto, and we need to do it a lot faster," Tory told the crowd, lamenting the City's unfulfilled 2009 promise to build 10,000 new affordable housing units over the next decade. "Six years later, we're still massively behind, with some 2,800 units brought to the market so far. This needs to change."

Tory also invited the federal and provincial governments "to play more of a role in Toronto's affordable housing," imploring higher levels of government to free up some of the "vast quantities of land they own in Toronto" to be put towards new housing projects.

Standing alongside Tory, Councillor Bailão called affordable housing "critical to the social and economic health of Toronto," describing the Open Door program a a "comprehensive approach to stimulating new affordable rental and ownership homes." With the Block 36 North project taking place in his ward, Councillor Cressy underlined the urgency of the initiative, declaring "a housing crisis in our city, with more than 91,00 families on the waiting list for affordable housing." 

Open Door program, City of TorontoCouncillor Bailao speaks at the future site of a marquee affordable housing development, image by Stefan Novakovic

An additional inventory of 13 other publicly-owned sites with affordable housing development potential is set to be released by the City, with a plan to create 200 affordable tenant-owned homes per year, facilitating home ownership among some of Toronto's more economically vulnerable residents.

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The Open Door announcement comes in the wake of a provincial initiative to eliminate homeless across Ontario over the next 10 years, with the city's chronically neglected housing crisis—and, more broadly, urban poverty— arguably coming closer to the public consciousness with cultural programming and a number of awareness initiatives bringing a critical issue to fore.

Currently underway, the Regent Park Film Festival—running from November 18th to the 21st—is bringing new and chronically underrepresented voices in Canadian cinema to the forefront. On now at the Daniels Spectrum, the four-day festival features a diverse range of films highlighting a rich variety of perspective, with each morning's school program providing children the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking cinema. In particular, Lowdown Tracks, one of the festival's marquee films, provides an intimate glimpse into homeless in Toronto.

Shelley Saywell's Lowdown Tracks—recently profiled on UrbanToronto—follows a number of Toronto's homeless musicians through the chronically ignored hardships of street life and the sometimes Kafkaesque labyrinths of housing bureaucracy. Screened at 12 PM on November 21st, the documentary opens a sensitive yet undramatized window into a chronically overlooked issue. Narrated by acclaimed musician Lorraine Segato, the film is also being shown on TVO, airing at 9 PM tonight, and is available to view for free online. You are in for a treat if you can get to the noon screening on the 21st.

Also tonight, some of Toronto's prominent public figures will also be bringing homeless to the public eye through an awareness campaign called Sleep Out: Executive Edition tied to Covenant House. The initiative will see figures including Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, PCL Constructors Vice President and District Manager Bruce Sonnenberg, and CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Porridge sleep outside, with only sleeping bags and a piece of cardboard. The event aims to bring the harsh realities of street life closer to the many Torontonians unaware of—or willfully blind to—another side of their city.

Tackling homelessness and a lack of affordable housing will take a multi-pronged approach, and UrbanToronto will be following initiatives to improve the challenges and solutions put forward to cope with the issue. What are your thoughts on the situation? Leave a comment in the space provided on this page.