by Markus O'Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff
I often express concerns about how much density is coming to our neighbourhood and can be branded by new housing proponents as anti-development, NIMBY, or out of touch with the current affordability crisis. But as a dad living in Willowdale, I’ve shared the experience of so many others fighting to find local childcare spaces, trying in vain to register for camps or swimming lessons at the crack of 7 AM, or struggling to find meeting space for a community activity. At least my kids have a space at the local school – many friends in nearby condos are not so lucky. Adding more people to neighbourhoods not designed to accommodate them isn't good planning or good pubic policy. The truth is we need lots more density across the City - to accommodate projected population growth, provide affordable housing, reduce the environmental impact of sprawl and to ensure our transportation networks are affordable and efficient. But none of this is possible without ensuring that infrastructure and services are provided to keep neighbourhoods great places to live, and to raise a family. Provincial laws provide the City with three tools to pay for growth: Development Charges, Parkland Dedication and, most recently, Community Benefit Funds. Each of these are allocated to projects by the City according to Provincial requirements. The City has always struggled with Development Charges, generally used for roads, utilities or social services. With its capital budgets squeezed, the City often uses Development Charges with an equity lens, providing new child care or community centres to lower income neighbourhoods most in need of social support. There is logic to a fair distribution of wealth, but new condo buyers in high growth areas are footing the bill for these facilities and finding there are no new spaces for them nearby. The new Community Benefits Charges (CBC) replace Section 37 funds. The old program required funding to be used in the communities generating them, and provided more flexibility for local priorities. In Willowdale they created Edithvale Community Centre along with several new parks and child care centres. The new provincial rules no longer require this local connection, and in the North York Centre, they will provide only about 1/3 the money that would have been historically received. When you couple these funding challenges with the fact that the Province has removed most of the City’s effective control over density limits, a huge mess is brewing. The City needs to take action by committing to tying development revenue to the neighbourhoods generating them. Council can provide that direction, even if the Province doesn't require it. There should also be service levels established by neighbourhood with new development discouraged until infrastructure can demonstrably service growth in that area. The Province should be giving cities the ability to manage growth and direct it to places it makes sense - not just the places that are most profitable. It needs to follow through on its commitment to ensure that the new CBC formula is revenue neutral with the old section 37 funding. It also must find a better system for Educational Development Charges to allow new schools to be reliably built in high growth areas. Residents - especially in high growth communities - need to be advocates for these changes. On Tuesday, January 11, from 11 to 1 PM, the City will be hosting an online workshop to consult with residents on proposed changes to growth funding tools. You can register for that workshop to ask some of your own questions here. With better systems in place to accommodate new growth, we can welcome new neighbours with open arms, tackle the housing crisis head on and ensure that our communities work for everyone.