Council to consider ‘flipping tax’

I’m not usually the kind of guy who points out the follies of politicians. As a rule, I think they do a good job and work hard. But this week, City Council will consider asking the province to create a house-flipping tax. It surely is among the worst ideas I’ve heard in a while.

The motion says:

[The] explosion in housing costs is being fueled in large part by home speculators who are purchasing multiple homes and flipping them for huge profits. According to Teranet, an unprecedented 25 percent of all property sales in Toronto are now to land speculators (so called “investors”) up from 16 percent in 2011.

What’s with the so called ‘investors‘” bit there? There’s nothing “so-called” about people who plunk down a deposit and fix a place up hoping to make some money. That’s just investment, and it’s a heck of a lot more real and value-creating than the kind I do on the stock market.

And we do tax house flippers. Sellers of investment properties (ones they don’t live in) pay capital gains income taxes just like other investors pay income taxes on the profits.

It gets even dumber:

Urgent action is needed to help stop the extreme increase in home prices in Toronto, driven by home flippers and land speculators who treat housing like a Bitcoin-type commodity.

Bitcoin, you probably know, is down 20% this month. It’s been a bloodbath. (No complaints from me.) But I sense that Mike Colle, the author of this motion, hasn’t been following the news—and probably wouldn’t really want to be held accountable for a 20% monthly drop in housing prices.

There are other, better ways to stem or reverse the increase in house prices. We could reduce demand, of course, by further taxing foreign buyers, making other parts of Canada more attractive to buy in, or increasing the levy on vacant properties.

We could increase supply with (thoughtful) rezoning and encouraging co-ops.

And, the single biggest thing that could be done is to increase the interest rate—which the Bank of Canada declined to do this week.


Johnny Strides does Weston

Johnny Strides is a prolific, ‘Toronto based youtube channel that focuses on walking, cycling, transit videos and livestreams in the city.’ Recently the channel did a tour of Weston, beginning in Cruickshank Park and walking down Rogers Road Weston Road to the UP Express / GO stations and doubling back to Lawrence.

“Johnny” misses Weston Village and its beautiful homes entirely after a tantalizing glimpse along Church Street when he emerges from Cruickshank Park. The gratuitous use of ‘troubled’ in the title didn’t win me over either. On the plus side, he does seem to do a fair amount of homework on the area and discusses that as he walks through. He gets a bit bogged down in the station areas before heading to Lawrence for his bus home.

The comments on the video are quite interesting. One commenter from Philadelphia noted that, “For a neighborhood with a bad reputation it certainly doesn’t look bad at all… coming from a person from Philadelphia which is sooo much worse. I do think Weston could use some greenery though.”

Westonians may wish to offer “Mr. Strides” some suggestions for another video on Weston. Watch the walk through below.

Local lawyer wants to be mayor of Toronto

Saron Gebresellassi (from Facebook).

High flying local lawyer, 31-year old Saron Gebresellassi is running for mayor of Toronto. She came from Eritrea to Canada as an infant in 1989 and according to an article in The Lawyer’s Daily, her impressive list of accomplishments ranges from fluency in six languages to classical piano and flute playing. She graduated debt free from three universities thanks to winning several private scholarships. While she’s unlikely to defeat the incumbent, she will no doubt raise the profile of York South-Weston and introduce some important issues into the campaign.

Participatory budgeting bringing infrastructure to Rustic

The third and final phase of the City of Toronto’s Participatory Budgeting Pilot Project will kick off in early-September 2017.

In the final phase of the pilot, Rustic has a lot to look forward to. Several light posts, along with water bottle filling stations, will be coming to both Rustic and Maple Leaf Parks. Some of the more “fun” ideas voted in include a movie wall, which was championed by local youth, in Maple Leaf Park, and a ping pong table in Rustic Park.

Rustic, one of York South—Weston’s six Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (N.I.A.s) (formerly known as Priority Neighbourhoods), was chosen as one of the three areas in Toronto for the pilot to take place in. Rustic is located in the northwest end of the riding, bounded by the 401 to the north, Culford Road to the east, Lawrence Avenue West to the south, and Jane Street to the west.

Participatory budgeting is exactly what it sounds like; it lets members of the community decide the allocation of city funds for infrastructure. While this is the City’s first time officially trying participatory budgeting, it has been used by other cities such as Boston and New York. Toronto Community Housing also has a Participatory Budgeting program for tenants.

In Rustic, $150,000 was allocated to the N.I.A. for the project’s first phase, and $250,000 has been allocated for each of the final two phases.

Before participatory budgeting came to Rustic in 2015, most of its parks were dilapidated with worn out playground equipment and a dire need for more lighting.

The City of Toronto’s Participatory Budgeting team at the 2017 Falstaff Summerfest.

Once the final phase of the project is complete, a report will go to City Council on whether the City should continue with the project or not.

Weston should keep an eye on participatory budgeting. Like Rustic, Weston is home to several different demographic groups, and is always looking for new infrastructure. Participatory Budgeting can promote social cohesion and community relationships, but it can also expose decades-old community divisions. When involving ourselves in civic engagement, we should look to what makes the community—and city—more liveable for everyone as opposed to what might make it a little bit better in the short-term for ourselves and a few of our neighbours. This is the lesson that participatory budgeting teaches.

If you want to see the full list of ideas or if you live in Rustic, you can submit ideas here.

Overhead Wiring is so Third World.

Overhead wiring detracts from our streetscape and especially from heritage buildings like our beautiful library.

Weston, like many parts of the third world – oh and also Toronto – is plagued with overhead wiring. It’s completely unnecessary since there are no streetcars in Weston. It’s in fact a false economy on the part of power and communications companies.

In the winter of 2013, the city was shut down for days because an ice storm downed a lot of overhead wiring. More than 300,000 Toronto households were affected. The cost to individuals, the city and the economy was enormous and clean-up costs alone were estimated at over $100,000,000 at the time. Don’t blame the trees; many Toronto trees had been weakened thanks to pruning to accommodate wiring!

The adjacent city of Mississauga was minimally affected because their wiring is buried safely underground.

The 2013 ice storm cost Toronto dearly. From cbc.ca

Overhead wiring is a danger during ice storms and traffic collisions but there is an aesthetic consideration too. What is the effect of wiring on our streetscape?

Take a look at our beautiful Arts and Crafts library without overhead wires (courtesy of a quick Photoshop job). The building can be appreciated in all its glory without unsightly wiring.

Photoshop did what the city and utilities won’t.

Overhead wiring and transportation have one thing in common. The city and utilities should have been tackling them for decades but in Toronto, there is always a lack of money thanks to the short-sighted obsession with keeping property taxes below the rate of inflation. Interestingly, this same obsession doesn’t apply to salaries for the mayor and councillors as their paycheques are automatically linked to the rate of inflation. Nice.

Oh, by the way, yesterday’s photo reveals that the library needs new shingles. Probably cheaper than a leaky roof but then that’s not the Toronto way, is it?

Great news and bad news.

It’s well known that many more people in Toronto would cycle if they were isolated and safe from other traffic. The Ontario Government announced today that it will be spending up to $42.5 million on cycling infrastructure across the province. According to Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, the Ontario Municipal Cycling Commuter Program aims to, “promote safety for cyclists and make cycling more comfortable and more appealing for daily commutes and other frequent trips”. The Ministry has also set up a website to promote cycling. This is great news as York South Weston is one of the most under-served wards in the city when it comes to separated bike lanes. As pointed out in a previous article, a few sharrows are the main concession to cycling in the Weston, Mount-Dennis area.

Toronto Council and the mayor were no doubt horrified and shamed by the recent tragic death of a five year-old riding with a parent in a separate but unprotected lane adjacent to busy traffic. This lane should have been physically separated from Lakeshore Road traffic had the city followed its own guidelines. The fact that it wasn’t is an indication of the low esteem in which cyclists and their safety are held in the city. The Mayor has offered to dither study the matter once more – a familiar council tactic designed to do nothing after the clamour for action has died down.

The lack of separation is contrary to the city’s own guidelines. From the Toronto Star.

Instead, Mayor Tory may wish to actually read the city’s existing guidelines concerning cycle trails in the city. I’ve saved him the bother of doing a ‘study’ by quoting the relevant section.

6.4.1. Trails Adjacent High-Volume or High-Speed Arterial Roadways

High-volume and high-speed roadways may have space for trails in the lands dedicated to them. Generally,

these are roadways with speeds of 60 km/h or more and four or more lanes of traffic. These types of roadways often do not have sidewalks, and a trail adjacent should be planned in a similar manner as a trail within a dedicated right-of-way.

The conflict between high-speed traffic and trail uses is best addressed by distance. Designers should try to achieve the maximum distance between the trail and the roadway. Aligning trails at the maximum distance from the roadway will also help to “future-proof” the trail against road expansions.

Where an appropriate distance cannot be achieved, guide rails and a physical separation such as a fence or landscaping are recommended.*

*my bold.

Toronto City Council has a large number of car-centric members. Read here (and weep) for some of our elected officials opining on two-wheeled transportation.

So the bad news is therefore that any spending has to be approved by individual members of Toronto City Council. Let’s hope it won’t take any more lives before some concrete and meaningful action is taken. With the province providing up to 80% of the funding, there will no longer be a valid excuse not to act.