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Chow pledges to build 25,000 rentals with city as developer

Don Wall
Chow pledges to build 25,000 rentals with city as developer
CHOW FACEBOOK - Former Toronto city councillor and NDP member of parliament Olivia Chow entered the race for Toronto mayor on April 17. She is pictured earlier this month on the campaign trail.

Second in a series: the Daily Commercial News continues coverage of the Toronto mayoral byelection through the lens of the city’s construction sector with our first profile story of candidate Olivia Chow.


Former mayoral candidate Olivia Chow has emerged as the frontrunner in the Toronto mayors race with polls showing her a full 10 points ahead of closely bunched contenders Mark Saunders, Ana Bailao, Josh Matlow, Brad Bradford and Mitzie Hunter.

Chow, who came third to John Tory in the 2014 mayoral election, is the veteran among the top six with long service as a school trustee, Toronto city councillor and NDP member of parliament.

She suggests her experience in public office will be a significant asset as she anticipates the stickhandling she will have to do to execute her signature policy, getting 25,000 new rental units built through a new City Homes Plan.

Born in Hong Kong in 1957, Chow arrived in Toronto at the age of 13 with her parents to settle in Toronto’s St. James Town.

“The City of Toronto in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s was into building affordable housing, they built 32,000 units of affordable housing and because I was, at that time, in municipal government I have seen how effective these buildings have been, what the city has done, the benefits it has for seniors, for families, and the entire housing market,” said Chow.

“Those days we did not have people out in the street.”

The City Homes Plan will see the city acting as a developer, building 25,000 rent-controlled homes over eight years with a minimum 7,500 affordable units, including at least 2,500 rent-geared-to-income units, on land the city owns. Most of the funding would come from the federal National Housing Strategy program.

Chow, who was married to the late Jack Layton, the former federal NDP leader, refers to “Layton-Martin budgets” in recalling Layton’s influence with former prime minister Paul Martin.

“I’ve been a member of parliament and I know how to get money,” said Chow. “I know how the federal government works. There was $1.6 billion from the federal government for the cities for building affordable housing.”

Until a decade ago, Chow said, the city was actively providing mixed-income housing. Referring to city-built housing in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood and elsewhere, she said, “The neighbourhood is vibrant, it’s livable.

“It is totally doable. It’s just a lack of political will in the last 10 years that this has not happened.”

Chow has also issued announcements dealing with homelessness, accommodating Scarborough transit users, assisting renters and preserving the Ontario Science Centre as a community asset.

She said her definition of a great city is one in which citizens have a strong sense of belonging, living in strong communities with not just affordable housing but also “all the places that people gather, community centres, parks, libraries, swimming pools, skating rinks, trails, all those places we were aware of during the pandemic.

“A healthy, livable city includes affordability, it includes strong social infrastructure, public spaces, and inclusive of your sense of safety.”

As mayor Chow would call off construction of the Gardiner Expressway overpass between Cherry Street and the Don Valley Parkway, saving money, she believes, with a ground-based roadway and getting 8,000 homes built in the neighbourhood.

She would encourage Metrolinx to be more “consultative,” saying it is “astounding” how the Eglinton LRT keeps missing deadlines; and she would ensure construction contracts are written “tight enough” that builders will suffer major financial penalties if they miss completion deadlines.

As for Ontario Place, Chow said it should be kept as parkland.

“Don’t wreck it with a fancy, luxurious spa that only people who have quite a bit of money can go to. With six or seven storeys it will be an eyesore.”

Chow was speaking on the day Toronto City Council voted to reform zoning to enable the construction of up to four units on single-family properties, a move she praised. She supports more “gentle density” on main avenues and close to transit stations and says permitting must become less complicated, with a “one-stop-shop” approach.

“Right now it’s all over different departments. It’s complicated. It takes too long,” said Chow, enumerating other permitting reforms she wants to see.

“All of those things would help to encourage much faster building. I want to see the city experience a building boom. Because we need it. We’re going to have more people moving into the city, and housing is desperately needed. So let’s get it done faster.”

The 2023 Toronto mayoral byelection will be held June 26.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.



Read about the other top candidates below

Matlow’s Public Build Toronto would mean a fresh start

Saunders, Hunter tackle Toronto housing crisis

Bailao endorsed as champion for working people

Bradford promises to shake up city hall to get housing built

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