The one thing most Ontarians can agree on is that there’s a pressing need for more affordable housing. While one solution is to transform government-owned properties into developments for rentals and housing units, a new report found that this resource has been largely untapped.
Although some government properties are being used for this purpose, nearly 6,000 public lands across the Greater Golden Horseshoe area are not, according to new research from Ryerson University.
The report, which was commissioned by OREA and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA), found that these underutilized lands include surface and underground parking lots, LCBOs, and underused school sites.
“The Province of Ontario, the Federal Government and the City of Toronto are the three largest landowners in the GTHA,” said Tim Hudak, OREA CEO, in a statement. “With the dream of home ownership slipping out of reach for too many Ontarians, it’s time that the Government and its agencies stopped sitting on surplus and underutilized land. Freeing up even part of this empty land can make a huge difference for affordable housing options for Ontario families.”
Coincidentally, the same day Ryerson’s report was released, the Ontario Government announced it sold surplus land near Yonge and Wellesley Sts., in Toronto. The land was sold for $36 million.
Developers now plan to build two 50-storey towers with a minimum of 700 rental units. Of that total, 30 per cent — or more than 200 units — will be affordable. The property will also include a daycare and retail space.
“Our government believes that all Ontarians should have a place to call home,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “We are giving this unused land a brand-new purpose and bringing much needed rental and affordable housing to Toronto’s downtown core.”
The sale of underutilized and surplus lands is a win-win for both the government and Canadians. Not only does it save the government millions of tax dollars in maintenance costs, but it offers space for developers to create affordable housing.
The provincial government announced in December that they were committed to speeding up the sales of surplus land. Its latest sale is part of their plan to sell 243 properties in the next four years to be used productively.
LCBOs, for instance, are often one-storey and could be transformed into mixed-use property, Ryerson’s report noted. There are also 180 parking lots that could be developed in the city.
Creating residential units in place of a parking lot is not a new concept. In fact, it was previously proposed that the lots at both Yorkdale Shopping Centre and Dufferin Mall be turned into a mixed-use development.
While Canada’s 10-year National Housing Strategy is certainly helping to make housing more affordable, the sale of underutilized land will only accelerate that process.