Why is Little Jamaica excluded from affordable housing plan?

Cheryll Case

Toronto councillors, advocates and community groups are upset that a new zoning plan requiring the building of affordable housing doesn’t include Little Jamaica along Eglinton Avenue West.

City staff’s proposal for a framework called inclusionary zoning, which will make it mandatory for developers to include a certain percentage of affordable units in new condo buildings, doesn’t cover the ethnic enclave because staff say demand for housing in that neighbourhood isn’t high enough.

Coun. Josh Matlow’s ward encompasses part of Little Jamaica, home to a high concentration of Black and Caribbean-owned businesses and a rich cultural heritage. He called the exclusion “ridiculous” given the recent proliferation of development proposals in anticipation of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is set to open next year. If none of the units are affordable, Little Jamaica residents — who’ve largely borne the brunt of construction — will be driven out, he said.

“To see that community displaced is not an option for this city,” Matlow said. “It’s not acceptable and I’ll do whatever I can to fight that.”

In its proposal to the planning and housing committee meeting next Thursday, staff have identified large swaths of the city that will fall under inclusionary zoning beginning in 2022. Depending on the neighbourhood, five to 10 per cent of new condo units will be affordable, which will increase to between eight and 22 per cent by 2030.

Ownership and rent prices would be geared to households earning between $32,486 to $91,611 a year and not exceed 30 per cent of their income.

Toronto’s chief planner Gregg Lintern said the city is required by the province to base zoning on a housing market analysis to determine which neighbourhoods were hot enough to “sustain” the affordable housing requirement and not deter development.

“Now, what’s really important here is that there is no isolation of Little Jamaica in this exercise,” Lintern said. “It’s more based on a citywide analysis of the market and some areas are stronger than others. It’s that simple.”

Josh Matlow

Lintern emphasized that what’s proposed is a first step, and the city will review its inclusionary zoning in three years. Then, neighbourhoods along Eglinton Avenue West likely will make the cut because the LRT will be open and land values and demand for housing will have increased.

While inclusionary zoning requires developers to build affordable housing, the city can still negotiate with developers case-by-case to do the same, which Lintern said it plans to do for areas like Little Jamaica.

The notion that developers are going to walk away from building along a major transit line in Little Jamaica is not believable, said Matlow. He suggested it’s time the city took a harder line.

“The only difference for developers will be: will they make an extremely enormous amount of money or will they simply make an enormous amount of money?” he said.

“If a developer doesn’t want to build a building that includes affordable units, I think we as a city have to question whether or not that’s a development worth pursuing.”

Black Urbanism Toronto, a non-profit organization that engages with Black communities to support social, economic and cultural advancement, said in a statement that it is imperative for Little Jamaica to be included in inclusionary zoning to help curb the rapid gentrification that’s already displacing residents.

Planner Cheryll Case, who works with Black Urbanism Toronto to protect the community’s cultural heritage, said Little Jamaica is already losing its Black population at rates higher than any other ethnic group because they’re more likely to face systemic racism at work and earn lower incomes.

Inclusionary zoning would ensure they are able to live near transit and continue to support local businesses, Case said. She pointed to Matlow’s motion passed by council last year that directed city staff to include Little Jamaica in its plan.

“We were really excited to get inclusionary zoning in the neighbourhood and I think for people of African descent, it’s the right thing to do to honour the commitment made to deliver inclusionary zoning as part of the process to confront systemic anti-Black racism,” Case said.

There’s a long history in North America of dispersing and erasing Black communities and that’s the danger Toronto’s facing, said Bill Worrell, the chair of the Oakwood Vaughan Community Organization.

“All the big developers are going to move in because there’s lots of money to be made,” he said, “and the affordable housing that’s there now over retail stores and on neighbouring streets is going to disappear.”