Fifth in a series: the Daily Commercial News examines the Toronto mayoral byelection through the lens of the city’s construction sector with a profile story on candidate Josh Matlow.
Toronto mayoral candidate Josh Matlow says his vision for Toronto includes cultivating strong relationships with the development community so that everyone — builders, policy-makers and communities — wins, but when it comes to affordable housing he thinks it’s time for a fresh start.
And so as a priority campaign initiative, the fourth-term city councillor would establish a new agency, Public Build Toronto, that would develop an initial 15,000 rent-controlled market and affordable apartments and go from there.
“While senior levels of government must provide meaningful investment in affordable housing construction, Toronto can move ahead right away by putting up significant funding and enough public land to build 100,000 new homes,” said Matlow in announcing the proposal. “Toronto can put its foot forward with a new approach.”
By removing developer profits, Matlow believes, the city will be able to build housing at cost on 25 million square feet of public land.
Public Build Toronto will be funded with $300 million in seed funding from the city — sourced by rebuilding the portion of the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis at ground level instead of as an elevated expressway — and by waiving all municipal fees.
Under the plan, proceeds from market rentals would provide fresh investment capital.
Matlow has been identified as a top-six candidate in several polls.
He was referred to as a “radical” and “non-serious” by fellow contender Brad Bradford for his position on the Gardiner but Matlow argued his platform is the only one that that is fully costed, “meaning that I demonstrate, without exception, how realistically I can deliver anything that I commit to.”
The candidate believes he can work with developers to streamline the approvals process and get to “yes” more quickly.
“I see opportunities for our city, quality of life, that can be unlocked if the city and the industry work co-operatively together. There’s far too often a dynamic where there’s this binary choice between, does the developer build something and get their way, or is the community left with the kind of benefits that improve their quality of life. But from my experience, if you work well with an applicant in the community, you can actually achieve both.”
Matlow’s early days in public service included a stint as co-director of Earthroots, a Toronto-based environmental NGO that fought for protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt. One of his campaign pledges has been to establish an Ontario Greenbelt Leaders Council to protect the Greenbelt from development.
Here, he offers an undisguised broadside at Premier Doug Ford. He said Torontonians should understand that the Greenbelt reaches right into the city through its watersheds, including Etobicoke Creek, the Humber, the Don and the Rouge.
Ford’s realignment of the Greenbelt is “not good planning. It’s not good land use. And in particular, when it destroys some of the most important ecologically important, agriculturally important lands in our region, I think it’s just fundamentally wrong.
“The Greenbelt should be a gift for our kids, not a giveaway at a stag and doe.”
Addressing Toronto’s construction procurement, a model that gives work exclusively to 10 building trades through collective agreements, Matlow said he believes union jobs are important because workers receive good wages, benefits and security, enabling them to buy homes and live where they work.
“Yes, we could cut corners and lower standards, but I think that would be both ethically wrong, but also would counter our core objective as a city, which is to improve our quality of life and to make our city more affordable.”
Matlow said he would aim to work with the province as “adults” when Ford is serving the best interests of the residents of Toronto but he would not sit passively by when Ford “bullies us.”
“When he sells off our Greenbelt to his donors, when he works for Therme spa rather than protecting our public waterfront, when he allows Metrolinx to work in secrecy and mismanage projects that become boondoggles, that become delayed…I’m going to take a stand and I will use every leverage I have as mayor to protect the quality of life of our communities.”
Other campaign initiatives include a pledge to spend $200 million annually to ensure Toronto can meet its TransformTO environmental commitment to be net-zero by 2040; he will stretch assets such as schools and libraries by providing more public access to them; and a $1.2-billion Scarborough Moves mobility plan.