Solving the housing crisis

April 13, 2017   ·   0 Comments

IF THERE’S ANYTHING everyone seems to agree on these days, it’s that there is a housing crisis centred on Toronto that has placed home ownership far beyond the reach of all but a tiny minority of young Torontonians.

According to the experts, it’s mainly a result of demand far outreaching supply, despite the construction of huge subdivisions in suburbs like Brampton and Markham in addition to seemingly countless high-rise condominiums in Toronto and Mississauga.

Part of the problem may well be the activities of foreign buyers and speculators, both seeing housing as a solid investment in the fastest-growing part of Canada. And there is justifiable suspicion that such investors are inclined to keep the housing vacant so as not to have any difficulty disposing of it when they decide the time has come to rake in the sought-after profits.

In the circumstances it will be interesting to see what solutions, if any, the three levels of government come up with.

The local municipalities should do what they can  in the area of planning in general and zoning in particular, to make sure that new housing projects face a minimum delay.

However, it will be up to the senior levels of government to provide the necessary funding for needed infrastructure, particularly in the area of transportation.

As we see it, the long-term objective will be to see affordable housing within the reach of everyone, in locations that will be within a maximum of 90 minutes from their jobs.

That being the case, we wonder why on earth Metrolinx has not committed itself to do a lot more than currently planned in terms of commuter rail services.

To us, it’s patently absurd that at a time when GO Transit is successfully running double-decker trains as far west as Kitchener there is nothing  but a bus shuttle more infrequently than Orangeville’s to Peterborough. A check of the current GO Transit schedule indicates that the commute from Peterborough to the Union Station takes more than two hours.

Ironically, Peterborough is nominally served by the Canadian Pacific Railway. However, no passenger services have existed there since about 1990, and the trackage has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where the CP Rail freight trains at one point were restricted to 10 miles an hour. And although the federal and provincial governments had agreed to spend $150 million on bringing the trackage back to the point where high-speed rail service was once again possible, nothing seems to have happened since Tory MP Dean Del Mastro, who had lobbied for passenger rail to be brought back, was defeated in the 2014 federal election.

Unlike cities in the Greater Toronto Area and those well beyond, such as Kitchener, Guelph and Barrie, which have been growing rapidly, Peterborough has witnessed relatively little growth, its current population of about 80,000 comparing with about 60,000 40 years ago.

Accordingly, the current federal and provincial governments should see Peterborough as a key element in any program designed to offer home ownership to young couples with jobs in the Toronto area. And all that would be needed to ensure enormous growth in the city would be a commitment to have full GO Transit rail service within three years (roughly the time it would take for developers to produce the needed new housing).

Of course, the required expansion of GO train service shouldn’t be limited to Peterborough. A strong case could surely be made to have at least some GO train service out of Orangeville and Alliston, with a similar requirement that commuters would be able to reach Union Station in under 90 minutes, free of the perils and anxieties associated with fighting gridlocks.

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