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Veronica Green: The future supply of housing is at risk


Housing is near the top of the political agenda these days and for good reason. Housing affordability has reached what some have described as a “crisis.” Consider, for instance, that home prices increased by roughly 30 percent over the pandemic. Even expectations of falling housing price in recent weeks anticipate that they’ll only return to pre-pandemic levels.

This has led to a growing political consensus that a key solution to Canada’s housing woes is more housing supply. Scotiabank analysis has shown that the country’s housing stock is, on a population-adjusted basis, the lowest in the G-7. Boosting housing supply is therefore an imperative.

Yet that is easier said than done. It requires that provincial and local policymakers create the conditions for faster and more affordable housing construction. That’s a far cry from the current investment and construction environment.

Residential housing developers currently face a perfect storm of supply chain constraints and fundamental issues (like rising interest rates and high construction costs) that stand in the way of contributing to more housing supply. These unprecedented conditions make it nearly impossible to build. 

The cries of the developer’s shrinking profit margin have been heard before, but in good economic times, they were ignored. Today, government should listen.

There are a few telling signs that this present predicament is unique: rental projects have converted to condominiums because the margin to build rental has been eradicated, developers are delaying sales launches, and some are outright canceling their projects

Marlon Bray from Altus Consulting recently shared a post that perfectly, and all too simply summarizes the cost to build a residential condominium project in Toronto, Canada’s largest urban city. Just consider:

Graphic Credit: Janice Nelson

To break down the visual: “Construction Hard Costs” are the materials to build your building; “Soft Costs” are all consultant costs related to the building (like the planners, lawyers, sales, and marketing teams); and “Government Charges” include all municipal taxes and related policy fees. 

This year, global issues affecting supply chains, coupled with labour strikes, have increased “Construction Hard Costs.”

“Soft Costs” have increased as a result of wage hikes and employment shortages and, most importantly, the City of Toronto has proposed increases to nearly all “Government Charges” (namely “Development Charges” and “Parkland Costs”). 

Toronto’s housing industry has had a good couple of years—not just developers have profited, but so has the City. 

The City government has taken advantage of strong market demand and the subsequent “condo boom” to introduce policies and guidelines to address critical socio-economic problems like affordable housing and climate change. Developers adopted these policies and adhered to these guidelines because ultimately any increase in government regulatory costs could be offset by a developer’s own increase to the purchaser sale price. 

In turn, this worked out in the City’s favour: municipal politicians were able to deliver on campaign promises (Support Climate Change!) and increase their revenues without raising the property taxes of their existing voter base. The future cost were borne instead by the first-time homebuyer of a condo development. 

But the times have changed, and we are only now realizing the full effects of the impact of COVID-19 and the Russian war on Ukraine. Europe is bracing for a winter without Russian gas, as well as other world issues that are affecting global supply chains. Inflation is driving up the costs of goods and interest rates are climbing too. Everything is more expensive and it is tough to get goods and secure much-needed labour.

Quite simply, when costs go up, buildings do not.

The risk here is that the future supply of homes that we need so desperately is not going to get built, and the homes that do will come at a great cost.

Housing developers are in a for-profit business—many with a fiduciary responsibility to investors and, of course, their lenders. When costs go up and that 10 percent profit margin starts to shrink, business in Toronto no longer looks so good. 

Municipalities can control the costs they impose on housing. If other municipalities outside of Toronto have lower or more competitive fees, developers will seek out those opportunities to build in other jurisdictions.

These regulatory costs are geographic. If Toronto is intent on raising its fees, cranes will move to other areas. More condos will be built on transit lines and not in the core of downtown Toronto, taking away people, tax revenue, and life from the province’s capital.

If governments are going to continue to lean on private developers to support their campaign promise of more homes, then the industry will require better investment and construction conditions.  

In the immediate term, there is a role for the provincial government to reduce government costs by decreasing, pausing, or altogether eliminating development charges for affordable or inclusionary zoning housing units and purpose-built rental units. It makes little sense to subsidize the sale price of a unit and tax the construction. This is the housing equivalent of charging for parking at a food bank.

Other options include capping annual interest rate increases for development charges and capping and standardizing parkland dedication charges.

Projects are getting canceled and delayed today, and without reforms to the line items that we can control—like government charges—the more homes that were promised will not get built. On the precipice of municipal elections and much whispered housing legislation from the province, these are the necessary steps.

Malcolm Jolley: Ten restaurants that guarantee you a fun evening


When Howard proposed we each draw up a list of ten of our favourite restaurants and post them at The Hub, I instantly and unequivocally agreed. Making up lists of favourite restaurants is the sort of thing I do when I daydream; it seemed like an easy and fun exercise. And, I reasoned, it would be handy to have a list committed to the World Wide Web.

I have a tendency to freeze like the proverbial deer in the headlights when a real person asks me for a restaurant recommendation, this way I would create a reference point for myself and others that I could effortlessly share.

How wrong I was! The first few restaurants were easy enough to conjure up, but after the first few that came to mind my inner deer returned and the panic came back. What if I forgot one? What if one my favourites had declined since the last time I was there? Would I attract the ire of disappointed Hubbists?

Also, what if most of my favourites were of the same type, or clustered in the same city? Worse than wrong, it might be boring. This list project turned out to be more difficult, than I first imagined.

Despite requiring some effort and some thought, the exercise of enumerating ten restaurants, spread around my hometown and some of the places I am familiar with, turned out to be quite enjoyable. My first criteria for a great restaurant is neither the quality of food nor service, per se. Instead it’s whether or not I have fun when I am there.

The places on this list are places where I have had fun. Of course good food (and often, but not always, wine) is important, and I would argue good service is essential. Though, what exactly is good is always up for debate. Fun, to my mind, isn’t: either you’ve had it or you have not. Revisiting these ten top restaurants was an exercise in conjuring up memories of fun.

Here they are in no particular order.

Restaurant L’Express, Montreal

I fell for the young lady who would become my wife after a long lunch at L’Express; it was a long time ago, in our last year of undergrad and living in Montreal. It is not clear to me which direction the positive association to this perfect bistro runs. Do I love L’Express in part because it’s where I began to fall in love with my wife, or do I love my wife in part because she also loves L’Express? Last time we were in Montreal, this time to drop off our kid at university himself, we traversed the black on white tiles up to the door and sweet-talked our way to the last two seats at the bar. We ordered from the big wine list, which helpfully tells you how many bottles of each listing are left and tried with mixed success not to simply order favourites like the sorrel soup, or classic Tartare. Then we craned our necks to look at the chic Montréalais eating well into Saturday night and let out a bit of a sigh.

The Anchor & Hope, London

In my humble opinion the “gastropub” is not a concept that travels well outside of the British Isles. Probably because North America has always had casual restaurants with good food and a bar. Britain (I am told) did not until the last decade of the last century, and when Londoners were offered the opportunity to eat well without linen table clothes and uniformed waiters and the gastropub boom was on. This restaurant pub is firmly in the tradition. The Anchor & Hope is two rooms: a bar and a dining room. If you’re lucky, you’ll start in the former, maybe with a pint of bitter, before heading to the bare unvarnished wooden tables of the latter for wine and fancy British food, like a salad with smoked mackerel. It’s on The Cut, by the Old Vic, near Waterloo Station on the south side of the river. It’s lovely to meet locals for a drink after (their) work and stay for dinner. But it’s also great fun as a kind of escape valve and temporary oasis from the West End and tourist London on the other side of the river. It should be mentioned that it was founded and is operated by alumni of St. John, and is loyal to that restaurant’s ethos.

Scaramouche, Toronto

Until COVID-19 wreaked its horrors on the hospitality industry, Scaramouche was one kitchen with two restaurants, with two menus: the dining room proper and the Pasta Bar. As a young(er) man, I had a number of formative meals in the dining room which were as expertly executed and served as any I have had in the étoilees in New York, California or Europe. There’s a period in one’s career as a diner, where this is very exciting. But when good friends took us to the somewhat erroneously named Pasta Bar I fell in love again, as it felt more intimate and convivial, and started to book it with regularity. (It also had excellent people watching.) Now, I hear it’s all one restaurant, and I regret I haven’t returned yet for the locally sourced, beautifully cooked food and the best restaurant view of the Toronto skyline going.

Il Sorpasso, Rome

I don’t go to Italy for modern cooking; I want it traditional and I want a lesson in what exactly is supposed to happen gastronomically in whatever town or countryside I am in. And yet, and yet… I love Il Sorpasso, which likes to break the rules, while making it clear they know exactly what they are doing. A good example of this is their pasta with butter and anchovy, the memory of which, paired with a Trebbiano Spolentino, is bringing water to my mouth as I type. Their gastronomic irreverence is matched with the shabby chic decor and friendly service from young people who know you know they are much cooler than you. It’s tucked in a quiet street between the Vatican and the Castle of Saint Angelo, which it makes it another escape pod oasis from the busy, tourist Rome. Unsurpassed, indeed.

Langdon Hall, Cambridge Ontario

Full disclosure: I am friends with the Bennett family that owns and operates Langdon Hall. I have been treated well there, but since they rest their reputation, and correspondingly high rates, on treating people well, I believe that’s par for the course of all their guests. Langdon is, I admit, a cheat because it’s my way of sneaking in an extra restaurant, apart from its renowned dining room. I love the Wilks Bar equally, and see the two dining areas, which share Chef Jason Bangerter’s renowned kitchen and extensive gardens, as a continuation of a whole. One can attack the gastronomic pleasures of Langdon by arriving in time for sandwich or a burger at the bar, as a kind of warm-up to the tasting menu at the dining room. Or, one can arrive later, dive fully into Bangerter’s tasting menu, and the myriad pleasures of the cavernous wine cellar, in the evening, and keep lunch at the bar as a civilizing restorative exercise the next day, after good long walk around the grounds.

Hotdog Cart (Various locations), Toronto

Hot Italian sausage on a yellow brioche bun with sauerkraut, raw onions, dill pickles, sliced banana peppers and French’s mustard. Particularly as a late lunch after some kind of business engagement, eaten standing up on the sidewalk in an alcove to get out of the way of traffic. I will defend Toronto street meat until the day I die, and those who speak down on it are wrong and damned to a life of joyless culinary ignorance.

The Rose Venice, Los Angeles

The Rose is an American restaurant that only Americans can do, and do well. In between the beach and Venice’s hipster scene on Abbot Kinney, it’s a really big space, mostly under a kind of tent and exudes boisterous energy, like a good party. I mean it’s fun and impossible not to get caught up in the vibe. Portions are, of course, commensurately expansive: a giant chopped salad with a really big glass of rosé, please.

Mi Mi, Toronto

A friend who lived around Broadview and Gerrard took me to Mi Mi’s in Toronto’s Chinatown East longer ago than I can remember, and it quickly became a regular Sunday lunch spot for our family in cold months when a steaming bowl of their Pho is more than worth the drive over the Don River. There are more exotically authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto. Mi Mi is, I think, a kind of Vietnamese diner, it serves the greatest hits of the diaspora. Cash only, fluorescent lights and good hot food made well and they are generous with the accompaniments including a homemade garlic hot sauce. It’s never empty.

La Piola, Alba

The town of Alba, in Piedmont, south of Turin, has a number of gastronomic claims including being the birthplace of Nutella, its festival of local white truffles, and the centre of the wine region of the Langhe, which includes the prestigious appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco. It’s the latter that has brought me to this perfectly sized pretty old walled town, that lives up to its reputation for the appreciation of good food and drink. The most famous restaurant in Alba is the three star Michelin Ristorante Piazza Duomo, but my favourite is across the square on the other side of the cathedral. The release of Nebbiolo wines is typically in the spring, when it is warm enough to have lunch outside, and La Piola’s tables on the piazza are a perfect spot to people-watch and enjoy a glass or two of Arneis or Dolcetto while moving through the specialities of Piedmont, like vitello tonnato or the small ravioli of pasta a plin.   

St. John (Smithfield), London

Howard has captured the spirit of St. John so well, I am not sure how to add to it, especially having written about it in my wine column too. I suppose, like the nine places that precede it on this list, it represents an oasis (a word I have used in this list twice before). It’s an island of calm in a big city, a machine that is tuned to please its guests, if (and only if) the guests are willing to be pleased and respect the pleasure. It’s in the noise of cutlery and the standard, short stemmed wine glasses, and of course the food and service. A great restaurant calls one back. I might visit London and miss a meal at St. John, but I’d be sad about it, like I had walked by the door of a good friend without knocking on it. Long may it run.