TORONTO – Councillor John Tory doesn’t generally have much to celebrate with city council, but Thursday’s vote was a notable exception. Tory, the leader of the opposition Tories, voted against his party’s official position – the Downtown Relief Zone – in favour of a plan to allow apartment-style single-room occupancy buildings in downtown Toronto, with strict controls on where and when the rooms can be rented. In theory, that would allow housing to be built faster than it can now, but it angered housing advocates, who said that it would lead to a further decline in the supply of affordable, permanent low-cost housing. It was the first time Tory opposed Tory in the past eight years.
“It’s clear this is the policy that only strengthens the position of landlords in our downtown,” Tory told The Toronto Star, the day before the vote. “It doesn’t help anyone, it doesn’t help supply, and it’s certainly not going to help the housing crisis we have.”
It was a contentious issue in a city where there are 65,000 long-term and affordable rentals – the third highest in the country – and 57,000 on the books for development.
“We don’t see if there is a demand for this type of housing,” Tory told a Sun-sponsored forum last September. “We don’t see if there is a need for this type of housing. It’s almost like we’re restricting supply.”
And during Thursday’s vote Tory told councillors that he didn’t understand why the plan only promoted cheaper housing, as opposed to market-rate housing.
“This decision of this council is going to assist the landlords more than it’s going to assist anyone else,” Tory said. “The landlords will get more of it.”
Tory was even more outspoken outside council chambers on Thursday, as the debate unfolded. After the vote, he told reporters that he had just spent time with residents who live in privately owned homes that have been raised into apartments.
“If they had been forced to take the beds in the rooms as opposed to the bedding, the furniture, the light fixture, the carpeting, they would have had to leave,” Tory said. “These are people who love this city and who are dependent on Toronto being a decent city to live in, a clean city to live in. They don’t want that neighbourhood changed. They don’t want that city to change and they don’t want a whole bunch of shoddily built apartments putting extra pressures on the neighbourhoods that are already struggling.”
His members, he said, were not voting for a more prosperous city, they were voting for a better Toronto.
“When you boil this down, this is not, as you watch this debate, this is not a change for anyone,” Tory said. “This is not a focus on the people who live in them, it’s not a desire to make Toronto more luxurious, it’s not to have more people afford to live there, it’s not a plan for an amazing place to live. It’s a plan for the profit of one group of people who for some reason do not think the cost of living is too high for people to live here, or that there’s a shortage of one type of housing.”