Now in its final year, the City of Toronto's High-Rise Retrofit Improvement Support Program (Hi-RIS) pilot project incentivizes energy-efficient upgrades and retrofits for Toronto's ageing apartment housing stock. According to the City, the program—initiated in 2014—allows property owners to "access low-interest loans to make retrofits and capital improvements at eligible apartment buildings of five or more storeys." 

As part of the City's broader Tower Renewal Strategy, the Hi-RIS program provides financing for improvements including "boiler upgrades/replacement, water circulation pumps and controls, bi-level lighting in parking garages, low-flow toilets, building envelope improvements such as windows and exterior cladding." 

Offering payment terms of five to 20 years, the Hi-RIS program ties repayments to the property tax bill following the repairs. In doing so, the cost of the load is attached to the property, not the owner. If the property is sold, this means that the financial obligation is transferred to the new property owner, allowing for greater flexibility as compared to a typical bank loan. 

Apartment towers in North York, image by Marcus MitanisApartment towers in North York, image by Marcus Mitanis

Much like the City's Home Energy Loan Program (HELP), which allows individual households to access low-interest loans for energy-efficient repairs and retrofits, Hi-RIS is designed to facilitate long term energy savings and improved living conditions. As in single-family homes, however, the upfront cost of these retrofits and repairs can be prohibitively high, leading to increased costs—and environmental impacts—in the long term.

In providing flexible, low-cost financing, the program is intended to lessen environmental impacts and ease strain on the power grid while simultaneously reducing energy costs for property owners and tenants. According to the City, the three-year pilot project targets the retrofit of 10 participating properties, with a budget of $10 million allocated to funding the repairs. 

Apartment tower facade on Gerrard Street, image by Jack LandauApartment tower facade on Gerrard Street, image by Jack Landau

Legally, the program's inception is facilitated by changes made to Local Improvement Charge (LIC) regulations under the City of Toronto Act (CoTA). The Province's amendments to CoTA allow the City greater flexibility in administering LIC programs, with HELP and Hi-RIS (both of which are pilot projects) marking experimental steps towards new City-led regulations.

While LIC funding has typically been used to finance local public infrastructure improvements, the amended framework expands the scope of the program to include retrofits to private properties, which can provide an indirect public benefit through energy savings.

Further information about the program (including an overview of eligibility criteria) is available via the City of Toronto's website. According to the City, property owners are free to choose the licensed contractors of their choice, with "up to $100,000 in cost saving incentives available from Toronto Hydro and Enbridge Gas."