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Why Toronto should stop complaining about all its condos

Below is my latest post from the TAS blog. You can find it cross-posted here.

Last week I wrote a post on my personal blog about housing policy in San Francisco. My argument was that the backlash against the tech community (for allegedly driving up real estate prices) is actually misdirected and that housing policy should be the target. 

The reasoning behind this is simple: More people are moving to San Francisco than new housing is being provided. And so regardless of whether you have tech workers or not, you have an environment where the rich are always going to outbid the poor for housing.

If you look at the numbers from the past 2 decades, San Francisco on average builds 1,500 new housing units a year. And yet the city gained approximately 25,000 new people between 2010-2012 (that’s roughly 8,300 people per year). So what you have is a perpetual housing supply shortage.

To correct this problem, San Francisco needs to start building. And I’m stealing this idea from Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, who wrote an article on this very same topic back in December of last year for Bloomberg (and a book called Triumph of the City). His argument was that “the surest way to a more equitable housing market is to reduce the barriers to building.”

Now, if you compare San Francisco’s situation to Toronto’s, we’re almost on the opposite end of the spectrum. Toronto doesn’t have a problem building. We’re building lots. So much so that it’s become fashionable to joke around and complain about all the condos going up in this city.

But it’s important to remember that all of these condos are making us a relatively affordable city by global standards. We have more people moving to this city every year than San Francisco and yet home prices are less. We’re also less expensive than Vancouver, where there are strong natural barriers to building, namely water and mountains.

So rather than complain, I’m going to be the contrarian. I like seeing new housing built. I like knowing that the neighborhoods I love in this city are becoming home to more and more people.

At one point, my home (which is in the St. Lawrence Market) was a “new development” and somebody could have fought and opposed it. But it was allowed to be built and I was allowed to move in. I’m thankful for that. And so my plan is to be just as gracious to the next person who wants to join the neighborhood.

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