Toronto exploring school land sales to address housing crisis

Some Toronto councillors are pushing the province to change a “deal-crusher” rule, one they say prevents the city from buying land from the public school board to build housing.

Mayor Olivia Chow’s executive committee is asking Premier Doug Ford’s government to make a key change to rules which govern how the Toronto District School Board sells off surplus land. Right now, the board must follow a tight process which includes a clause requiring all land be sold for “fair market value.” 

Budget Chief Shelley Carroll told the committee that single clause often scuttles deals that would serve the public interest, making them unaffordable.

“It’s been a deal-crusher for a long time on exactly these types of things, where you can meet a social good that we all agree on except for this one problem,” Carroll said. 

“We’re not going to demand that we be sold these places for $1. But where fair market value turns out to be $55 million because it’s next to a subway, you’re just not going to meet the social good. And so this is a great thing if they just embrace it.”

The TDSB owns more than 600 properties, or 5,000 acres of land, making it one of the city’s largest landowners. As Toronto looks for space to develop new housing projects amidst a deepening affordability crisis, Chow says that public land could be repurposed to address the problem. Chow stressed that instead of selling the surplus school land, it should be made available for housing at a lower price. 

“Why are we selling public land in the middle of housing crisis?” she said. “We should be using public land to build housing, community centres and community spaces.”

Cooperation between the board and city on real estate projects isn’t new. In a letter to city council, Chow notes that a city-led development on the site of Davisville Junior Public School has produced a new aquatic and multi-use community centre. It’s a model she said should be replicated to build housing.

“Don’t just go and sell off land,” she said. “Because once you’ve sold it, that’s it, it’s gone.”


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