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Affordable housing here is an oxymoron

Affordable housing is the hallmark of any great community. And yet in Leaside it appears to be dwindling right before our eyes.

Recent issues of Leaside Life have brought to light the housing concerns at both the Talbot and Garden Court apartments on Bayview. The Talbot owners have evicted all tenants in the 97-apartment complex except those in the coach houses and the Garden Court  owners seek to turn the 10 buildings and townhouses into condominiums.

The transition would reduce the affordable rental housing pool in Leaside by 201 units. That’s not a good thing when you consider that the City of Toronto’s affordable housing wait list is over 90,000 households.

So what’s the answer?

That’s difficult to say because each person’s idea of “affordable” depends on their own  financial situation. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in East York is $1,168 according to CMHC statistics. I haven’t found a figure for Leaside specifically but as someone who’s rented for the past four years, I would guess it’s closer to $1,500.

According to Johnston & Daniel sales representative Jethro Seymour, the average home in Leaside in August sold for $1.28 million while the average selling price for a detached home across Toronto was $784,000, a 39 percent difference.

The median family income in the M4G postal code (Leaside Life’s total circulation) is $133,703, the 10th highest in Canada and fifth highest in the Toronto region. Assuming a 25 percent downpayment and a $960,000 mortgage at 4 percent, you’re looking at a monthly payment of $5,067, and that’s before taxes, etc.

CMHC considers housing affordable if you spend less than 30 percent of your annual household income on shelter. The $1.28 million home based on the figures above requires an annual income of at least $249,560, much higher than the median family income in the area.

Either Leaside residents are living perilously close to the edge or they’ve been able to invest more equity into their homes. I suspect the latter.

Our neighbourhood’s relative wealth combined with the fact only 28 percent of Leaside-Bennington residents rent (that Stats Canada figure is from 2001 but it’s doubtful it has changed very much since) suggests affordable housing’s not an issue here, at least not a vocal one.

Councillor Parker remarked in the October issue that the developer of the Scenic condos on Eglinton east of Brentcliffe is seeking to revise the plan for the yet to be constructed third tower. Specifically, Aspen Ridge wants more units in the same amount of space resulting in smaller square footage per apartment.

If affordable housing is truly important to Leaside residents the builder’s request would seem to be something the community would welcome because more condo units translates into more options for those renting.

The situation mentioned above on Bayview is but one reason I feel the community has been too quick to judge the Eglinton/Brentcliffe mixed-use development Diamond Corporation executives presented to the LPOA back in March.

The intensification sought by the developer in my opinion would deliver more, not less, affordable housing in Leaside.

The Toronto Star published an article in May that discussed how the city was encouraging condo developers to build affordable housing units within their projects. Urbancorp and Great Gulf Homes are just two of the developers to get on board.

I never thought I’d see myself agreeing with Councillor Adam Vaughn but his quote makes total sense: “We need a mix — from the person who works at the corner store in the base of the condominium to the person who cleans the office across the street… They all deserve the opportunity to walk to work just like everybody else in the neighbourhood.”

I don’t know how many Leaside residents are able to walk to work but if we had more mixed-use developments like the one at Eglinton and Brentcliffe, that number would surely rise.

Many may view my comments as development at any cost. You’d be mistaken. It’s important that the community stand its ground when proposals like the one for the former Post Office site look to undermine the character of the neighbourhood.

Activists like architect Deni Pepetti, who lives next to the former post office, have fought the good fight in an attempt to prevent projects lacking sensibility from moving ahead. Regrettably, it appears they have lost their battle; the city looks prepared to approve the developers’ plans for the site. Whether for that reason or not, Pepetti had his house up for sale last month. He declined comment on his reasons.

Affordable housing in Leaside is an oxymoron. It doesn’t exist — whether you rent or own.