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City confirms it will bid for properties along stretch of Sherbourne
March 9, 2022

Toronto is entering the bidding for a long-idle site in the city’s downtown east that has hit the market after years of fruitless negotiations as the risk of expropriation loomed.

The seven properties between 214 and 230 Sherbourne St. -- a wide expanse of overgrown grass and a large, vacant heritage home south of Dundas Street East -- have been a flashpoint in the conversation about affordable housing in Toronto for years. Local advocates have long asked the city to secure the site however possible and use it to develop new deeply affordable housing.

The site sits in a particularly high-needs part of the city, an area that has long seen a concentration of its residents facing poverty, violence, homelessness, and mental health and addiction challenges.

While the city has tried to negotiate a purchase with the owners since 2020 -- despite staff advising council against a buy as recently as 2018 -- those talks had been proving fruitless. Last spring, council directed staff to keep negotiating but also to pursue potential funding sources to expropriate the site -- a process, pushed for by advocates, in which the city snaps up a property for a specific purpose like widening a road.

Council has asked staff to examine opportunities to use the Sherbourne site specifically for the planned revitalization of the Dan Harrison public housing complex -- a set of buildings Toronto Community Housing Director Scott Kirkham described last year as a microcosm of the issues faced in the surrounding neighbourhood -- or to meet the goals of its Housing Now program.

Last month, however, the city learned the clock was ticking. The properties were put on the market with a deadline of Friday at 3 p.m. to declare interest. On Tuesday, the city confirmed it would submit a letter of intent -- though any deal would have to be greenlit by council in April.

“CreateTO and the City will continue to conduct due diligence on the properties to ensure the site aligns with strategic City purposes and that City resources are allocated in the most cost effective way to provide the most affordable housing possible,” the city wrote in a statement.

The news comes as a relief to Danielle Koyama, who works at the Regent Park Community Health Centre. She was among advocates who gathered outside the derelict properties under drizzling skies on Monday afternoon as uncertainty loomed about how the city would handle the deadline. “I just have to be hopeful that the city put in an adequate bid and the owners are going to be willing to sell the properties to the city,” Koyama said Tuesday.

“The situation is just so desperate, and housing is needed so badly in the area.”

She hopes the site will be used to boost the city’s rent-geared-to-income housing stock, rather than the kind of units created through Housing Now -- which aim to cost 80 per cent of average market rent. As of last year, that average was $1,431 for a one-bedroom.

The city now faces a potentially competitive process, with the site appearing to be marketed toward condominium developers. An investment summary from Colliers International highlighted the surging price of pre-construction condos in the downtown east.

“The location is ideal to meet the needs and growing demand from local and international investors, including students and young professionals that are drawn to the area,” it says, while pointing out the site’s proximity to the planned Ontario Line transit extension’s Moss Park stop.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the area, hopes the city’s offer is competitive, noting the city’s appraisers were using market valuations. “Of course, developers can overpay but the City won’t,” she added.

While Colliers said it passed along a request by the Star to speak with the property owners on Tuesday, that request was unanswered by the time of publication. A report on the city’s efforts to secure the Sherbourne site is now expected before executive committee on March 30.