On a plot of City–owned land yesterday at 200 Madison Avenue, south of Davenport Road, Mayor John Tory announced his Open Door initiative which will encourage developers to build more affordable housing in Toronto. The initiative will streamline the process by which developers can have their affordable housing projects approved. The site at 200 Madison will be the first property to follow the expedited approvals process.

In 2010 City Council set a goal of creating 1,000 affordable rental and 200 affordable ownership homes annually. Since then demand has gone up and, according to Housing Opportunities Toronto, by 2020 the city will require 10,000 additional affordable rental and 2,000 affordable ownership homes. Progress has been made, with a total of 2,792 new affordable rental and 750 affordable ownership homes being completed, but achievement remains under target. 

The Open Door initiative will operate around four main measures, by "unlocking opportunities" on private, public, and non-profit land. It will do this by fast tracking the planning-approval process, expanding City financial incentives to reduce construction costs, and by challenging provincial and federal governments and private and non-profit developers to scale up their efforts. These efforts will build on existing ones, including the extension of the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing program to 2020, to help provide housing allowances to very-low-income families and individuals.

Mayor Tory has also called on federal and provincial governments to release more government-owned land and commit other resources in Toronto for affordable housing. He has also planned for the streamlining of the approvals process so that construction of the first Open Door projects can start in 2016.

Mixed-income affordable housing planned for 200 Madison Avenue, image by Levitt Goodman Architects

With the aid of financial and other incentives, rents will be set below CMHC's average market rent and residents will be selected from the Housing Connections waiting list. The average market rent for a bachelor apartment is $899 and the average rent for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments are $1,071 and $1,264 respectively, according to the CMHC's 2014 Rental Market Survey. The initiative comes little over a month of learning that Build Toronto had missed their affordable housing target by a wide margin – building only a dozen of 1,250 affordable housing units promised between 2010 and 2015. 

The Mayor and Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailão, City Housing Advocate, outlined the initiative in a co-authored letter to other levels of government. The letter proposed that City Planning, the Affordable Housing Office, Finance, and other "relevant divisions and agencies" coordinate to produce a staff report to the Executive Committee on the development of an "Open Door" program.

The report will look at several ways to achieve its approved housing targets including looking into options for activating quick-start developments through the investment of $20 Million from the Development Charges Reserve Fund for Subsidized Housing. Other avenues of investigation include expanding policies and procedures for the discount, exemption, and waiver or deferral of City development charges, planning and building permit fees and property taxes for affordable rentals. The report will also review opportunities to increase affordability of new rentals through income support programs like housing allowances, rent supplements, provincial income supports, and a centralized coordinated housing registry. 

An inter-divisional targeted consultation with external housing stakeholders will be held to inform the report and to provide further recommendations. The last recommendation in this Open Door plan is to have the report submitted to the Affordable Housing Committee, Executive Committee, and City Council in November and December of this year. At that point some of the policy and program recommendations made should include options for immediate implementation.  

Although there is still some time before the Mayor's "door" on affordable housing will be opened, the frame appears to be in place.