There are many development narratives that I don’t quite understand. (I’m thinking of Toronto, but you can probably replace Toronto with any number of global cities for this discussion.) One is the belief that our transit network is full and so no new development should be allowed in certain locations, next to certain transit stations. The thrust of this argument is that additional transit capacity must be added before any new development is allowed to occur. This might sound logical, except it ignores the fact that the need for new housing doesn’t magically disappear because subway cars are thought to be too busy during the morning rush.
Transit systems are also a network, and so does this mean that no more development should be allowed to happen anywhere in the city/region? Or is the goal to simply move development off of higher order transit and into lower-density areas so that the future residents in these new buildings can either take buses to the transit stations that were previously deemed to be at capacity or drive their cars everywhere? (Our highways have excess capacity during the morning rush, right?)
The second narrative that I find perplexing is that new developments don’t give back in any way. Above is a chart showing residential development charges in the City of Toronto, as of November 1, 2020. This chart outlines the fees that every developer must pay when building new residential, though it is important to keep in mind that there are many other government fees and charges that form part of almost every new development. These are things like parkland dedication and separately negotiated community benefits. But for the purposes of this post, let’s just focus on development charges (aka impact fees).
Assume you’re building a 400 unit apartment building, consisting of 240 one bedroom suites (60%) and 160 two and three bedroom suites (40%). Based on the above chart, your development charge bill would be:
240 one bedroom suites x $33,358 per unit = $8,005,920
160 two and three bedroom suites x $51,103 per unit = $8,176,480
For a total of $16,182,400.
But it’s important to keep in mind that these are the rates as of November 1, 2020. They will almost certainly go up by the time these charges become payable for your 400 unit apartment building. By how much you ask? Well according to Urban Capital’s most recent issue of Site Magazine, which compared a development pro forma from 2005 to 2020, development charges in the City of Toronto have increased by about 3,244% during this time period. (The S&P 500 was up about 220% during this same time.) These are obligatory fees that contribute to everything from transit and parks to subsidized housing and municipal services. (The line items above.)
So it strikes me that there are other more productive questions that we could and should be asking ourselves. Such as, why is it that our transit/mobility infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with new development and new housing demand? What are we going to do to fix that immediately? Why are we not taxing the things we don’t want (like traffic congestion) so that we have more resources for the things we do want (like transit and housing)? And most importantly, what is the best way for all of us to work together so that we can create the absolute greatest global city in the world?