Securing Affordable Housing in the Palace Arms Redevelopment

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Dear neighbours,

Thank you for your ongoing engagement over the last two years regarding the development application for the Palace Arms, 950 King Street West.

Engagement from neighbours through every step of an application process is absolutely critical — and why your input is so important. Since the first public meeting in March 2019 I have heard directly from many of you, and I appreciate that subsequent meetings have been made more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic having to take place by phone and virtually. Thank you for continuing to be a part of the process.

In my seven years as a City Councillor, this has been one of the most challenging development applications to come across my desk. The complexities of the affordable housing replacement, and the lack of a legally enforceable dwelling room replacement policy, has meant a tremendous amount of work to get to where we are today.

But as I’ve said from Day One — affordable housing replacement is my top priority, and I’ve been clear that I would not accept anything less than affordable housing replacement as improved, deeply affordable housing on site.

Protecting Affordable Housing

The original application that was submitted in 2018 included zero affordable housing replacement. After two public meetings, four neighbourhood stakeholder meetings, countless meetings with City staff, and even a working table comprised of rooming house policy and non-profit housing experts — we have been able to exceed full replacement of the square footage that exists on site today, as new, deeply affordable, self-contained units with equal access to building amenities and facilities.

But that work began years before this application was even made.

When the City learned of the potential sale and redevelopment of the property in 2016, it was made clear that should any application for redevelopment be pursued, the City would seek the replacement of affordable housing that currently exists on site as a condition of any approval. In 2016 City Council approved a motion affirming this position.

This 2016 motion contributed towards the development of the City’s new Dwelling Room Replacement Policy, which was approved by City Council in 2019. Unfortunately, the policy has been appealed to the provincial Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), therefore it does not currently have legal force. In other words, the City of Toronto cannot legally require full replacement of existing dwelling room affordable housing. Nor can the City require it at the developer's expense. However, legally required or not, I have been clear to the developer and City Planning staff since the beginning that I could not support any application that didn’t include full affordable housing replacement.

Under the City’s Dwelling Room Replacement Policy, this would mean a full replacement of the 12,000 square feet currently on site as new affordable housing.

I am glad to be able to report that not only did we achieve full replacement of the 12,000 square feet currently on site, we continued to push hard, and by identifying funds from other development sites that I had allocated to affordable housing, we achieved an additional 3,000 square feet — bringing us to a total of 15,000 square feet of new affordable housing. That’s 25% more than what exists today.

With City Council’s pre-approval of housing benefits for all the future tenants in the new affordable units, the rent paid by tenants will be tied to income, and thus deeply affordable to people on social assistance. In other words, these units will be rent-geared-to-income (RGI) and truly affordable. 

Working with non-profit affordable housing providers, housing experts, and City staff, the next step is to design the best program model for the affordable space, including designing and laying out the exact number of units.

For the existing tenants of the Palace Arms, the affordable housing replacement includes their right to return, and securing units in the redevelopment at similar rents to what they are currently paying, receiving a monthly Rent-Gap Payment from the date that they move out and until the new affordable units are ready for moving back in; compensation including moving costs, and having access to Housing Support Services to help tenants locate, secure and move into alternative housing during construction.

None of these vital supports for existing tenants are an automatic legal requirement. They could only be secured through our persistent efforts over the past two years.

This is a first in the City of Toronto, and a significant achievement. 

What does all this mean? Frankly, despite not being able to legally require full replacement of all dwelling rooms at the developer's expense, we fought hard to meet the spirit of the Dwelling Room Replacement Policy. We were able to achieve an increase in affordable housing space, an improvement in the quality of this housing — from rooms with shared washrooms and kitchens to fully self-contained units — and truly deeply affordable units that people on social assistance can afford.

Please click here to read my full letter.