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Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

Outlook for 2017 Toronto housing market is red hot

The Toronto housing market is one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the country, and it appears as if prices will continue to rise in 2017. This housing bubble in Canada is putting substantial pressure on people who are desperate to find housing — and little is being done to change it.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) keeps track of all the Canadian housing markets and releases alerts when the cost of housing in a given city is increasing at a faster rate than the rate of average income. In October 2016, CHMC put the entire country on its first ever red alert, mostly due to the spill-over effects of Toronto and Vancouver’s housing markets. Vancouver has taken steps to cool their market by implementing a foreign buyer tax, but Toronto has yet to implement any great changes. Frankly, Toronto is in hot water and without government intervention soon, housing will rise an extra 10 to 16 per cent this year.

In December 2016, an average house in Toronto was $730,432 and if the averages were to rise to the anticipated 2017 levels, a home could become a whopping $825,000. This prices most people out of the market, and leaves many without an option of a permanent residence. The Royal Bank of Canada completed a Canadian Housing Health Check for 2017, and highly recommended the government step in to cool off Toronto’s housing market. Nothing has been done as of yet.

Recently, the City of Toronto road toll proposal was abolished by the Ontario Liberals, under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne, which leaves the municipal housing market as one of the only ways for Toronto to make money for city needs. This puts the already-pressured housing market in a frightening position, as higher taxes in the form of a proposed harmonized land transfer tax or increased property taxes would raise costs even further within the Toronto boundary. Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) released research on Tuesday emphasizing that any added tax pressure to the city’s market would push up prices in the GHTA further because the tax wouldn’t be in these boundaries. It could also impact the rental market negatively.

In order to afford a house, co-buying is growing in popularity, as people come together to buy a home. Though mortgage companies are stricter when it comes to co-buying with non-family members, putting funds into one large pot is a creative solution to being able to purchase a home. It also fosters a shared sense of community and lowers the burden of financing a home with an over-inflated price.

The housing bubble will eventually pop and it will have devastating consequences on homeowners if interest rates sky-rocket. There is a lot of danger in having high home prices and low interest rates, including selling to people who can’t realistically afford what they are purchasing. Instead of continuing the upward housing cost trend, the government needs to intervene and cool the market. People deserve a home and places like Toronto and Vancouver should be accessible to all, not just the select few. The city may benefit off housing in the short-term, but an inflated market will have nasty side-effects and affordable housing needs to become a central priority on a municipal, provincial and federal level.

New Mainstreet Research poll shows Toronto crazy for tolls

There has been a lot of criticism following Toronto Mayor John Tory’s new proposal to toll the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. But, what do Torontonians really think? A recent poll published by the Transit Alliance, a non-political organization that works with people in the transit and infrastructure industry, shows that over 50 per cent of Toronto residents actually support the use of tolls.

The poll, which was conducted by Mainstreet Research on Nov. 25, surveyed residents from all 44 wards in Toronto to find out if they supported tolling major roadways to pay for infrastructure and transit. What they found was an overwhelming endorsement of the mayor’s proposal. Sixty-five per cent of Toronto respondents said that tolls were the preferred source of revenue compared to increasing property taxes or introducing a sales tax.

This statistic was further broken down into regions: 72 per cent in the downtown core, 64 per cent in North York, 62 per cent in Scarborough, and 57 per cent in Etobicoke.

When asked specifically about tolls, respondents across the board said they would be supportive of implementing them on the DVP and Gardiner.

The question was: “Proponents of road tolls for the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway say road tolls would force non-city of Toronto residents to pay their fare share; critics say road tolls are an unnecessary tax hike. Do you approve or disapprove of introducing tolls on the DVP and Gardiner Expressway to pay for transit and infrastructure?

Support for tolls was the highest among downtown residents, with 70 per cent of respondents approving — including 52 per cent strongly approving — of the revenue sources. Residents of Etobicoke and Scarborough were less supportive of tolling, at 61 per cent and 68 per cent support respectively — still relatively high within the margins.

Only a third of Toronto residents approved the use of property tax increases, and even less supported the use of a sales tax (22 per cent).

While there are a number of critics that believe tolling to be an unfair tax on those living within the 905 region, this poll shows that even those living in Etobicoke understand the need to create revenue for better transit and infrastructure. The city needs to grow, and if the choices are between an increase in taxes or a toll on drivers, Toronto has made it clear that tolls are preferable.

If there is this much support throughout all the wards within the city, hopefully the mayor’s proposal will soar through council and Toronto can finally start to accumulate the funds it needs to continue developing transit and infrastructure throughout the GTHA.

Mainstreet Research surveyed a random sample of 2,280 Toronto residents, calling a mixture of landlines and cell phones. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.05 per cent.

Kensington small businesses are essential for sustainable growth

If the financial district is the brain of Toronto, Kensington Market must be the heart.

The market is an artistic centre of culture that holds a variety of unique retail boutiques, beautiful art, an eclectic combination of hippies and punks, and several fun restaurants and bars. In the middle of inner-city Toronto, this fragile ecosystem is threatened by rising prices, condo development and gentrification. But, there are people in power who want to keep Kensington local and sustainable, and protect it from being overtaken by large buildings and corporations. A property tax adjustment pilot project targeting small retail businesses could save the area.

Nigel Murray, owner of Dancing Days, a vintage retail shop in the area, feels the pain of the property tax hikes. “Last year, my property taxes were $7,000 and it went up with the property assessment to $15,000,” Murray says. “How much business can you possibly do when the rent is so high?”

The motion to support small retail businesses in Kensington Market is being supported by Councillor Joe Cressy and Councillor Michael Thompson. The project would incentivize high-risk retail businesses that are in expensive areas to stay open by providing lower property taxes. By providing financial relief in the form of tax adjustments, retail businesses can stay afloat and Kensington Market maintains its artistic and cultural roots.

Small retail businesses provide more than just artsy items for consumers, they offer sustainable growth and cultural integrity to a neighbourhood. The people of Kensington value creating community and in keeping money local. Kensington Market is a prime example of how a community can be dense, but doesn’t need to sacrifice its identity in order to grow sustainably. Density is often equated with development, but it can also be created by building cultural value into neighbourhoods and using existing space to foster independent market places instead of large-scale shopping centres.

Kensington Market’s popularity also drives up prices. Everyone wants to take part in the cultural phenomenon of the cool and artistic marketplace in downtown Toronto, and wealthier investors are taking an interest in the area. “Kensington Market is coming up,”Walter Munos, owner of One Heart Design, says. “Where there are the artistic people, the rich people come. These owners know there is a change because the rent gets higher every year.”

Since controlling the popularity of the area is nearly impossible, the solution must be to protect the cultural integrity of Kensington Market at a city level. the motion to protect small retail businesses in Kensington Market was approved at City Council on Tuesday to be reviewed by the executive committee in October. If the project is a success, it can also be repeated in other areas and local and sustainable community development can continue to prosper in Toronto.