Families on affordable housing wait list get chance at swanky address
Toronto Star
By San Grewal
28 July 2017

Mississauga’s affordable housing crisis has become an obsession for Councillor Carolyn Parrish. She’s trying to atone for past mistakes, she says, in this case her vote as a local MP more than two decades ago that helped download social housing from Ottawa to the provinces, and in Ontario almost immediately to municipalities.

Parrish talked to the Star about a game-changing deal she just helped broker with a developer building a glitzy downtown condo project on City Centre Dr. that will be attached to units for families on the affordable housing wait list. The average wait, at more than six years, is among the longest in the province. The veteran politician talked about how she plans to change that.

Q: Can you explain the deal you helped orchestrate with Daniels Corp., which was recently passed by both city and regional council?

A: The reason the Daniels project is so amazing, a two-tower project right in the heart of the city with a four-storey podium that joins them with all the amenities — the left tower is all going to be market (rate) condos, the right tower has been purchased by the Region of Peel, each unit for an average of less than $400,000. The region owns it. They excused the Daniels group $4.5 million in DCs (development charges) and the City of Mississauga is excusing $2.7 million in DCs. You can’t not collect DCs (because of bylaw requirements) so Daniels pays them and we give them the money back in the form of grants.

Q: And in return what does Daniels supply?

A: Daniels will supply over 170 units, 60 per cent for rent-geared-to-income (families or couples with a combined income less than $100,000) and the other 40 per cent for families right off the housing wait list. It’s an absolutely ideal situation. The transit (the city’s soon-to-be-built LRT) loops into the city centre, right next to the towers. We have the other transit connections right there, GO Train, everything you would need. There will be one, two and three-bedroom units for whoever has been on the (affordable housing) wait list the longest.

Q: You recently brought both motions forward to cement this deal, at regional council and at the city. How did you sell this?

A: Housing is an issue for all of us. I am sick and tired of talking about (affordable housing) theories and never, ever actually implementing any of it. You need something big, you needed something symbolic. My favourite line at planning committee (and staff are fantastic, they have come up with many ideas) where you can have 40 ways to do this and everyone at the table wants to get to heaven — but nobody wants to die. Nobody wants to put their hand up and say ‘I give up DCs’ because then you have to figure out where you’re going to get the money from.

Q: How did you solve that?

A: Well, myself and some staff said, do we want that property (part of a 23-acre parcel) at the heart of the city centre sitting (there) for decades when we can start collecting property taxes on hundreds and hundreds of units as soon as they’re ready. And (Mayor) Bonnie (Crombie) was totally onboard and has made housing one of her top priorities. And when (Councillor) Karen Ras, our de facto fiscal watchdog on council, looked at me and said, after I told her about my motion for giving $2.7 million for DCs, ‘It’s about time we put our money where our mouth is’ — there wasn’t any hesitation. I could have hugged Karen. I had almost given up. I was at that point. We can only say for so long that housing is important to our city, housing is important for the middle, housing is important for the families on the wait list, but every time we say, well, it’s going to cost you x number of dollars, and we go, no, no, no, no then put our heads down and mumble. No! It was a moment for me. It was crossing the Rubicon.

Q: Why has Peel had such difficulty funding affordable housing?

A: The more you can put in mixed-use housing, all generating property taxes, maybe subsidizing DCs or for the next project we (might) use a DC deferral strategy to incentivize builders, the more you do these sorts of things, the quicker we get away from the old model that’s broken and doesn’t work. Cities can’t build and upkeep public housing stock. You can’t build isolated housing in the far corners of cities away from jobs and public transit. We are better off as a city to do this, not just because we’re solving the affordable housing problem, but because it’s an economic model that works. And it works for the people who need it most. The waiting list has to come down. Some of the people have been on it for 15 years.

Q: Is this mission a key part of the legacy you want for yourself?

A: Yes. And it’s an apology to the world, to Ontario for being part of the Chrétien government (as a Mississauga MP) that wasn’t more careful when we downloaded social housing in the mid-‘90s to provinces because they said they wanted it closer to home so they could monitor it. There were alarm bells going off in my head — why are we doing this? It worked out so bad in Ontario when the government here under (Premier) Mike Harris turned around and downloaded (public) housing onto the municipalities. The money that we in the federal government made available to cities for public housing, the problem was that in a place like Mississauga they knew if they took that money there would have been no way to maintain all of that housing stock. Look at the problems Toronto is in — billions of dollars needed for upkeep. Now, it’s me turning around and trying to fix it. I think housing is a human right.

Q: Is that attitude about public housing widely shared in Mississauga?

A: When I got to council in 2006 people weren’t talking about it, it wasn’t a priority, not even at the region. It started to be. When I pushed for a public housing development that was built in my ward people thought I was crazy. They said I would be finished because constituents would revolt. That didn’t happen. Then Bonnie (Crombie) made it one of her platform issues (for the 2014 election). Bonnie, (Councillor George Carlson) and I were put on a housing committee that would meet down in Port Credit to look at what we could do. We met with experts — planners, builders, developers, policy people, provincial staff. Attitudes and approaches were beginning to change. You can’t take a nationwide problem and fix it in Mississauga, but we can take some steps here, with new approaches, and show the rest of the country what we’re doing.

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