Toronto set to tackle affordability crisis

by Neil Sharma28 Feb 2019

If there’s one way the new CEO of CreateTO hopes he’ll be judged for the job he’s embarking upon, it’s by how much affordable housing he helps create.

Brian Johnston—who’s a former Mattamy Homes executive—calls it “the burning platform.”

“I think this organization will be measured on its success in that area,” he told the Globe and Mail. “And the city will be measured, and the mayor will be measured. I think everybody’s got the message.”

CreateTO was conceived last year to oversee Toronto’s enlarging real estate portfolio, and one of its first key files will be managing Mayor John Tory’s Housing Now initiative, which will take 11 city-owned surplus sites and convert them into affordable housing developments.

The mayor’s ambitious target of 40,000 new affordable units over a 12-year buildout should take up most of Johnston’s time because most pieces of land have yet to be found. CreateTO staffers are presently constructing a database comprising Toronto’s 8,400-plus properties, but the work becomes especially daunting considering they’re spread across different agencies and departments and include existing buildings, parking lots and vacant lands. This is where the additional sites for affordable housing will be found.

Johnston may have clout because of his days at Mattamy—North America’s largest privately-owned developer—but how developers respond to Toronto’s Housing Now plan is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, the plan offers incentives, although at least a third of the units must be designated affordable.

Johnston says developers will need adequate briefing, and will likely have to partner with non-profit housing agencies in order for the Housing Now to become a success.

“You’ve got to think like a developer," he said. “Most private developers really wouldn’t understand affordable rentals. Most would say, ‘That’s not what I do.’”

How long the process takes is another question altogether. The Toronto Region Board of Trade already lobbed criticism CreateTO’s way for taking so long to form that time was lost searching for surplus lands.

But as an industry-insider, there’s little doubt Johnston has an idea of what solving the city’s housing crisis takes.


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