Who wants to be a millionaire?

When I bought my home 8 years ago, I felt sick. The woman I bought it from was delighted when we signed the paperwork—so delighted I knew that I had been had.

I hope she’s still smiling now—she’s a wonderful woman, by all accounts—but I certainly no longer worry that I overpaid. According to the MLS, I could sell my house today for more than double what I paid for it; and small, conventional, solid-but-unexciting houses like mine now sell for nearly a million dollars in Weston.

So now I worry for other reasons.

 

House values over time

Let’s be clear: This is bonkers. No normal people can afford an $875,000 home (the average selling price). The mortgage alone would eat about 60% of a typical family’s after-tax income. That does not include repairs, taxes, utilities, or, heaven forbid, daycare or a car.

Of course, some people can afford it: the well off. Weston, with the excellent UPX and connection to highways, will see more upper-middle-class people moving to town as they are driven from the city proper. Doctors, dentists and lawyers need places to live, too, after all, and they’re not the worst thing that could happen to Weston; but middle-class working people, working regular jobs as nurses, daycare providers and project managers, will be priced out. You can expect the neighbourhood to change. I, for one, don’t like the direction.

And make no mistake: we will be in danger. RBC is worried about “unexpected shocks” and “destabilizing developments”. A housing downturn would crush the economy. This should worry everyone.

But I worry about something more local and subtler. The divide between the haves and the have-nots (and have-lesses) is going to widen, and it’s already bad enough.

Most people in Weston aren’t millionaires—not even close—but some of us are, and don’t kid yourself: the wealthy don’t deserve it. The rich (me, weirdly, among them) merely had the good fortune to buy a house at the right time. The implications of this might be hard to take. Inequality probably reduces trust, social participation, empathy, and happiness, capacities I’d say we are already short enough of.

Will it be hard for the daughter of millionaires to go to school with the kids of those frozen out of owning? Will the son of lessors feel lesser? Will they both join student council, run for valedictorian, join the Scouts, and worry about the state of the city? Or might one of them feel just a little more invested, like she has a greater claim on the city around her—while the other feels like the room, the city, is always just a little bit colder, a little greyer?

So yes, I worry.

Of course, there are no easy answers (except the foreign-buyer’s and vacant property taxes). But here’s one nobody wants to hear: an increase in property taxes. Because frankly, if you write a check for property tax, you should fall to your knees in gratitude. You own your house.

And now, our property tax system is simply perverse. The rate on older apartments is 2.5 times the rate on freehold homes. People living in older, high-rise apartments (who are disproportionately poor) actually pay a higher tax rate than millionaire lawnowners.

This is unconscionable.

I propose something simple and fair: the tax rate on all properties, old or new, rented out or owned, should be exactly the same. Lawnowners will pay more, as will those building new developments. Renters in old buildings will pay less.

Will this solve our problems? No. Only interest-rate changes will, and that will be ugly. But taxing equally and fairly will make renting more attractive and buying less so. And it would go some very small way to saying that we are all in this together.

 

 

 

Today in Weston – March 23, 2017

The menu at Zeal Burger offers a wide selection for burger lovers. Click for larger image.

Today I tried Zeal Burgers on a whim as I was passing. I won’t attempt to duplicate the excellent review our Lieselotte Noort wrote on this local restaurant last fall but I have to say owner Mark Ghopros makes one of the best cheeseburger and fries I have tasted in a long time. His walk-in special of cheeseburger fries and a drink is $10.00 all in.

Mark tells me that he’s planning an update of the menu soon to include some exciting new items.

Zeal Burgers: 1926 Weston Road. Phone: (647) 352-3933

Foreign money pushing up house prices.

The logic-defying and alarming increases in Toronto’s housing prices have affected us in Weston to some extent. The boom is largely taking place outside our borders. While we still live in an affordable area, interestingly the net effect of the current market is lower property taxes for us. This is because higher assessments in other parts of the city mean that those residents are taking a larger share of the total assessment. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that housing prices (and rents) are rising at an unsustainable rate. What are we being told about the rise in housing prices? The big lie is that it’s simply a lack of supply and that more housing is needed. Based on this lie, there are proposals to eat into Toronto’s Green Belt and put more housing there.

A new report issued this week from the Ryerson’s City Building Institute tackles the housing shortage theory and disproves it. While there is enough housing for residents, the seeming shortage is likely caused by money looking for a safe haven in Canada. According to the report, it’s hard to trace foreign money that’s causing the boom but unless we do something about money flooding our city (such as a foreign buyers’ tax or a progressive property surtax), a lot of (especially) young people will be putting themselves at risk, saddled with an impossible debt. This could trigger a financial crisis, once the bubble inevitably bursts causing even more turmoil.

Over to you Province of Ontario.

Nunziata still pushing Scarborough one-stop subway

Image from City of Toronto.

In spite of mounting evidence that the proposed ($3.35 billion and counting) one-stop Scarborough subway will be a costly mistake, our councillor is 100% behind the proposal. It’s puzzling since a seven-stop dedicated right of way LRT was already approved and paid for. Unlike the subway, even the operating costs were likely paid for.

This subway project will serve relatively few people and if passed, will be ridiculed for decades to come.

If approved, the vast amount of money needed will pinch every city department’s budget for decades to come and is already an additional 30-year burden (or levy) on our tax bills. It will also starve needier transit projects of federal and provincial funds.

So why is our councillor still insisting on giving her support?

The answer is quite simple. It seems Francis Nunziata must support the Mayor against the interests of the majority in her ward so that she can keep her job as Council Speaker.

Common sense has gone out of the window. This subway was originally sold as a three stop package that went to Sheppard East. As costs estimates ballooned, the route was shortened and two stops were cut.

One would think that before making a decision, Council would carefully listen to experts and make a decision based on the data. Not so. Dogma rules the day at Council whose members actually voted down a motion asking for data driven decisions on transit. Mayor Tory and councillor Nunziata both (along with the usual suspects) rejected that common sense idea. The mayor apparently believes that his re-election hopes lie with this subway and he seems prepared to do and say almost anything to push through the decision before more embarrassing facts emerge.

Few would deny that we need more subways in Toronto. After all, our subway map has changed minimally since the 1960s. However, there are far better candidates for a subway extension than this location. Ms Nunziata, your speaker’s job is not worth the cost to Toronto.

Read this excellent Toronto Star article on the project here.

Smitherman to bid for council in 2018

George Smitherman. From ctvnews.ca

Weston native born politician, George Smitherman has announced he will run for council in next year’s civic election. While he will not run in York South-Weston, he plans to take a shot at one of the three new wards created after a boundary review and council vote last November. The condo boom of the past few years, has seen population growth in the downtown core and Smitherman hopes to end up with a home and seat there.

While a progressive councillor for Ward 11 might have been a big change from the current incumbent, all is not lost. Many vital decisions at council have been won or lost by only a few votes. Mayor John Tory opposed adding three extra wards. Why?  Possibly because the new wards are downtown and could add three progressive voices and votes which might improve the tone and dare I say humanity of Council decisions. As an added bonus, Smitherman has close ties with the Liberal Party of Canada along with Immigration Minister and York South Weston MP Ahmed Hussen so no doubt there will be a strong link to the federal government.

Here begins the speculation that the long term plan is to knock John Tory off his mayoral perch in 2022.

Stay tuned; it should be an interesting ride.

Metrolinx seeking your input

Metrolinx is seeking your blessing, permission, input, cover as they start a round of consultation on their “community charter” . They say they are

working hard to put residents and communities at the very centre of everything we do.

The charter is “to give meaningful and measureable [sic] form to our commitment to communities”.

Weston has long been railroaded by the provincial transportation organization. Off the top of my head, they:

  • Spent $500 million+ on the jet-setting elites even though they knew it was a dud
  • Expropriated homes while denying that they were doing so
  • Wasted gob-smacking amounts of money
  • Delayed opening the long-overdue pedestrian bridge
  • Screwed up building noise walls in our community
  • And continue to publish, of all things, an in-ride magazine for a money-losing train
UP Express magazine
Sweet christ. These are your tax dollars at work.

all while having plenty of community consultations on exactly what colours the deck chairs should be.

If, unlike me, you think that Metrolinx still has moral net assets, you can give your opinion.

Cops should be where they’re needed.

The Toronto Police report optimistically named, ‘The Way Forward‘ is running into flak from police union head Mike McCormack.  One of the suggestions in the report is to deploy officers in low crime areas to parts of the city where criminal behaviour is more prevalent. McCormack claims that after spending time to get to know a community, cops moved to other areas will be strangers. This apparently will negate all the good feelings engendered by community barbecues and the like.

Contrary to his new found love of community policing, McCormack was a fan of ‘carding‘. The practice of profiling, questioning and documenting people based on factors arbitrarily determined by an officer. Incredibly, while carding was abolished this year, data gathered in the past (some of it obtained illegally) has been retained. Carding did little to prevent crime but did much to alienate visible minorities. When I was young, many years ago I was profiled because of my youth, especially when driving. I can only imagine what it’s like to be young and black where profiling is practised.

Here in Weston it would be nice to see a few extra cops occasionally. Despite our fearsome reputation, we’re not a hotbed of crime. Although dealing drugs at 2 a.m. anywhere in the city is going to be bad for your health, the downtown waterfront is a far more dangerous place than Jane and Lawrence in the wee small hours.

The old saying goes that you can catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar. Back in the 20th Century, police would be visible in neighbourhoods. They talked to people and patrolled where they were needed.

It’s just as well McCormack doesn’t have anything to do with fire services. The same way that it’s a good idea to put fire fighters where the fires are, let’s put cops where they’re needed, not where they’re comfortable.