Sustainable living is our future. Without it, our natural resources will die out. The reality of climate change is hitting us all hard — wildfires, droughts, and floods, not to mention the amount of greenhouse gasses people breathe in on a regular basis.
You may ask: What does it mean to live sustainably?
It means you are producing as much as you are consuming. Whether that means you are growing your own food or installing solar panels on to your house — each small step will protect this planet and the life forms that preside in it.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m leading up to something gastronomic! Women’s Post now has a sustainability section on its website and will be featuring content about green living, low-carbon innovation, and city building. We will also be starting an e-newsletter in September.
This is exciting news and we want you to be part of it! First of all, let us know what you would like to read about in the comments below. Second of all, sign up for our e-newsletter! Let’s all play our part!
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High housing prices in Toronto are affecting homebuyer’s pockets and effectively preventing them from investing money in building sustainably instead.
The real estate market has skyrocketed, with expensive homes and low availability for people looking to buy. A detached single-family home in the GTA costing between $2 million and $4 million rose 77 per cent compared to 2015. Single detached homes in the GTA between $1 million and $2 million rose 64 per cent compared to the prior year. Homes have become unaffordable and are causing homebuyers to pool all of their available funds into buying a house at an extremely inflated price.
When homebuyers use every penny to invest in their home and begin paying their mortgage, much needed sustainable building practices such as solar panels or geothermal energy are cast by the wayside. Homebuyers often view sustainable practices as expensive and not worthy in the long-term. Though sustainable energy can be expensive initially, the long term investment is actually less expensive. However, many people aren’t even considering green energy investment because of current astronomical costs of housing.
Solutions are being discussed though to remedy the inflated real estate market and assuage the housing issues at hand. The federal government is discussing a speculative tax targeted at foreign investors. Many properties in Toronto and Vancouver — the two Canadian housing markets that have increased — are owned by absentee owners. The Canadian government has made it fairly easy for foreign investors to purchase property without paying taxes as a local citizen and it has helped inflate the market significantly.
One idea that has been presented to help Vancouver’s housing market is the B.C Housing Affordability fund. House owners would be charged a 1.5 per cent property surcharge on residential real estate, which would amount to $15,000 on a $1 million property. If the homeowner paid over $15,000 in income taxes though, they would be exempt from the surcharge.
Another issue that is driving housing prices upwards is a loophole in the real estate board that allows investors to flip properties without being taxed, which drives up the property value at a fast rate without repercussions. In Vancouver, the provincial government has promised to intervene in the real estate board to ensure they are following fair practices, but Toronto has not moved forward with any commitments of their own.
The federal government is also discussing forcibly cooling the housing market by increasing the mandatory down payment for houses under $1 million to 10 per cent. This would dissuade most first-time buyers from purchasing a house and decrease competition in the Toronto and Vancouver markets. At the same time, measures need to be taken to ensure that the rental market doesn’t accidentally drive prices up. There is also a fear that cooling the market would harm Calgary and Montreal’s housing markets, which aren’t doing as well as Toronto and Vancouver.
Preventing first-time buyers from purchasing homes to cool the market has been criticized as an unfair practice, and another option might be more profitable for everyone. Creating affordable housing in key areas would allow first-time buyers to purchase homes and wouldn’t continue to increase current house prices. Calgary launched a program called “Attainable Homes” that allowed buyers to purchase a home for $2000 as long as they could manage the mortgage. These homeowners were required to take financial training to properly understand the market and to pay the organization a certain amount of the property value increase when they sold the house. People are also prevented from flipping their house because if they try to sell too quickly, they would owe “Attainable Homes” a higher percentage of their property value increase.
The housing market has been a popular topic of conversation at the dinner table and the chosen solutions don’t seems to be working. It will be interesting to see how government intervention will cool the market, and if affordable housing becomes a priority. No matter what, cheaper housing prices will allow people to focus on sustainable building practices and invest in the future of green living.
The Transit Alliance held its annual Toronto Region Vision Summit earlier this month, and the discussion was truly fruitful. Low-carbon living, transit, city building, and housing were all brought up by various participants with differing perspectives. This is how a region grows — by listening to the experts, introducing new ideas, and making adjustments to plans that have been in the works for years to better reflect current-day challenges.
Here are a few photos of the hundreds of participants in the TRV 2016.
Toronto’s city council approved the 2016 budget Wednesday with little debate or discussion.
The 2016 operating budget of $10.1 billion and the $21 billion 10-year capital budget includes a number of plans for transit, alleviation of traffic congestion, public safety, poverty reduction, and child care subsidies, among other things.
It is rare that council only takes one day to discuss and debate a budget in session — two days were scheduled for this item, with a possibility of a third.
Council addressed the issue of property and residential taxes before approving the budget itself, two items that are usually adopted together as a package. Deputy city manager, Giuliana Carbone, said the 2016 budget was a challenge. City staff had to balance instruction about keeping spending low while committing to a number of long-term capital projects.
“Those are not compatible,” he said.
Taxes are always a controversial topic — certain city councillors felt like the suggested overall tax increase of 0.88 per cent was too low, while others recommended the city not increase taxes at all. Instead, they suggested, the city should consider other forms of revenue.
Council eventually adopted the original recommendation, which included the following:
Property tax increase: 1.3 per cent
Non-residential tax increase: o.43 per cent
Overall tax increase: o.88 per cent
An additional 0.6 per cent was also added on for the development of the Scarborough subway and 0.78 per cent for residential properties, bringing the total tax increase to 2.69 per cent. The tax increase is well below the rate of inflation, and remains the lowest residential property taxes in the GTHA.
The budget greatly depends on municipal land transfer taxes. The city is making an assumption that the tax will not be reduced or softened — essentially that it will hold constant. If the municipal land transfer tax wavers, Toronto could be left with a large hole in the budget going forward.
“At this point, we are able to expand the service level in 2016. Going forward, unless we have an increase in land transfer tax, that clearly becomes unsustainable” said Peter Wallace, city manager for Toronto, to council Wednesday afternoon.
The budget itself includes $8 million geared towards poverty reduction, $5.5 million to support the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing, and funds to help with improved streetcar reliability, Sunday morning subway service, and the hiring of additional seasonal inspectors of municipal construction to alleviate traffic disruption. It also includes $1.25 million for child-care subsidies, which was not in the original recommendations.
At the end of the day, council didn’t really consider changing or altering the budget, which is why it only took a day to pass. Important projects like the Yonge Relief Line, SmartTrack, and the revitalization of Toronto Community Housing are not being funded this year, despite the city’s insistence of their priority status. The budget is a very political process, and the mayor couldn’t be seen supporting a tax increase that was higher then inflation, despite the blatantly obvious positive effects it would have, because a) the status of the City’s labour negotiations and b) it’s not popular for re-election.
Council’s decision to not match tax increases to inflation will, ultimately, come back to haunt them. If taxes don’t match up to the rate of inflation, there will always be debt. In fact, the gap will continue to grow. So, Toronto needs to make a decision. It won’t be long until the budget planning process happens all over again. Let’s not make the same mistake next year — as the city manager said, Toronto just can’t afford to.
“Sprawl begets sprawl,” director of engagement and digital strategy, Megan Hunter from Friends of the Greenbelt said when questioned about the immediate concerns of transit, housing, and community within the Greater Toronto Area.
Urban sprawl is a concern that has persisted in Toronto and its surrounding areas for generations, and the need for sustainable transit planning is imperative. Luckily, the province is taking charge through a careful assessment of four land protection plans including the the Niagara Escarpment Plan (1985), the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2001), the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) to develop a better planning strategy for transit and community planning.
In December 2015, the government report entitled Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2015-2041 was released. The report was led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie, and it has popularly been dubbed the Crombie Report since then. This 171-page document has 87 recommendations on how to protect important lands and plan future communities, while considering important factors such as transit and housing. The report predicts the population across the GHTA will increase from nine million residents to 13.5 million by 2041. In order to create more high-density and transit savvy communities, planning strategies must be implemented to ensure sustainable building practices.
The Friends of a Greenbelt is a non-profit foundation that has been advocating on behalf of the Greenbelt since its inception in 2005. “The report achieves the vision for growth planning,” Hunter said. “It preserves ecological areas and prime farmlands and it doesn’t entertain dividing parcels of land or making the Greenbelt smaller.”
The report targets specific objectives to help implement better transit strategies including intensification and density building, developing infrastructure near transit corridors, and abolishing leap-frog developments.
The Crombie Report focused heavily on the importance of intensification and density targets in the GHTA. Currently, the minimum requirement for developers is to meet a 40 per cent intensification target when building. This indicates that 40 per cent of building in a specific municipality must have mixed-use development (that focuses on building upwards) to help create high-density communities. Five out of 15 municipalities on the outliers of the region under the Greenbelt do not currently follow the trend, including the Kawartha Lakes, Simcoe, Wellington, Brant, and Holimand counties.
The report emphasizes that 60 per cent intensification would be more effective for sustainable transit planning. It also advocates to use incentives to ensure municipalities follow the minimum requirements. “Intensification targets aren’t being met yet. These communities have been allowed to do that when they don’t need to do that,” Hunter said.
In addition to intensification targets, the report also touches upon density requirements. As of 2006, according to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the municipality must ensure developers build for 50 people and jobs per hectare. Currently, eight regions do not comply with these standards. Despite this, the Crombie Report suggests raising the density requirement to 60 people and jobs per hectare. Interestingly, Toronto exceeds the standard and meets 100 per cent intensification and density targets.
The same standards can be applied to transit. Research from the Crombie report indicate that running a bus needs about 50 people and jobs per hectare to avoid putting strenuous financial strain on each municipality.
“Density looks different for different types of communities. Planning can create a local character that matches commercial and residential needs,” Hunter said.
Building around transit corridors and focusing on density and intensification targets also avoids “leap-frog development”. This type of building causes housing projects to pop up along the Greenbelt boundaries that leave residents isolated, without any alternatives to transportation. It furthers sprawl and draws away from sustainable development practices.
By implementing mixed-use neighbourhoods, building high-density and well planned communities, and building near transit corridors, the Greenbelt can continue to exist and transit can become the primary mode of transportation in the GHTA.
“The whole idea with the big house with three cars has a lot of repercussions that weren’t considered,” Hunter said. “It isn’t good for health, you don’t have a cultural, vital community and there is a lack of transit. People are starting to see that.”