City council has voted in favour of a plan to make 11 surplus parcels of land available for the development of affordable housing despite criticism from some councillors who say the initiative doesn’t go far enough.

In a 21-4 vote on Wednesday afternoon, council approved the framework for Mayor John Tory’s “Housing Now” program, in which some surplus city land will be made available to developers for the creation of approximately 10,000 new residential units.

The plan calls for two-thirds of the units to be set aside for purpose-built rental with about half of those (3,700) being used for affordable housing with rents ranging from 40 to 80 per cent of market value.

At a news conference earlier on Wednesday, Tory called the plan “one of the biggest initiatives of its kind that has been undertaken by the city in a long, long time.”

Some councillors, however, disagreed and made amendments aimed at ensuring a higher proportion of  units would actually be used for affordable housing.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Coun. Mike Layton introduced a motion that would have required 50 per cent of all unitsto be classified as affordable and one in five to beclassified as “deeply affordable,” with rents capped at 40 per cent of the average market rate.

Coun. Gord Perks also tabled a motion asking staff to ensure that at least one bid for each site come from a public sector organization, such as the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

Ultimately, both amendments were defeated and council gave the green light to the “Housing Now” plan as currently structured.

As part of that plan, the city will retain ownership of the surplus lands but provide developers with a 99-year lease. The city would also waive an estimated $176 million in development charges and fees over the coming years and another $104 million in property taxes over the length of the leases.

“I think that we need to create a plan that is sustainable and is scalable and that is what we are trying to do here,” Coun. Ana Baialao, who is city council’s housing advocate, told CP24 after the vote. “We know that if the provincial and federal government come to the table we will definitely get more affordable housing on these sites with deeper affordability, but with the plan we have, we also know that it can be built with non-profits and the private sector.”

Tory says construction could start at some sites by next year

The surplus lands are mostly located near major public transit lines, with many of them currently home to surface parking lots.

During his news conference earlier in the day, Tory said that if council sticks to an expedited timeline theapproval of individual developments, there could be “shovels in the ground” at some of the sites as early as next year.

“I think today is a very big day. Housing now is a big initiative. In fact, it is three times the number of units from when the St. Lawrence community was created and books have been written about how important the St. Lawrence community was,” he said, referring to the mixed income community developed under former mayor David Crombie in the 1970s.

Layton says approach doesn’t fully take advantage of city resources

Tory has called his plan an “important first step” in addressing the housing crisis but Layton said that it simply doesn’t go far enough.

At a news conference alongside Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam on Wednesday morning, he said that while “he would like to think that the mayor has the best intentions” it is clear that the approach he has pushed for “doesn’t fully take advantage of the city’s resources.”

For her part, Wong-Tam said that it would be preferable for the surplus lands to be developed by an arms-length city agency to ensure that more units are kept affordable, as is being done in Vancouver by the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA).

“In Vancouver they are going through a similar housing crisis, they have unlocked city-owned land just like we are trying to do but the major difference is that they are providing 100 per cent affordable and 100 per cent affordable on those lands,” Wong-Tam said. “The question before us is why is it that the City of Toronto is taking such a timid and tepid approach to our own city land in the face of a housing and a homelessness crisis?”