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How Toronto Lost its Groove
November 10, 2011 5:02 AM   Subscribe

An analysis of urban planning and investment, or lack thereof, with Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area as examples A to Zed.
posted by jb (32 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Trains, trains and more trains. Please.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:03 AM on November 10, 2011


I was part of the terrorism induced refugee flow from Montreal to the Toronto area in the seventies and grew up in the far end of Mississauga. Since then I have lived in Guelph, London, ON, Ottawa and Birmingham, UK and when asked what it was like to grow up in Toronto I always have to correct people that Mississauga is most definitely not Toronto and I tell them to imagine a giant parking lot where every parking spot comes with a house. When I go back it feels like a weird inhabited ghost town. You can walk for an hour in the subdivision and all you will encounter is maybe two or three dog walkers. Everybody drives and they open their garage doors with remotes and zoom inside.

I don't have a lot of insight into the politics of the GTA but I do have experience with the consequences and as much as I love the city part of Toronto I am probably never coming back because I am priced out of the livable part of the city and unwilling to live in the community-starved car based deserts that surround it. Each and every other place I have lived has been far better than Mississauga on almost every dimension other than property taxes. More community, more viable transit, better public facilities, better walkability, better character. More life. I'm willing to pay more for that. Screw low taxes. Money ain't worth anything if you are just sitting around watching TV waiting to die.
posted by srboisvert at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


First of all, the Walrus is a national treasure: I can't think of another publication that takes such a deep, critical view of Canadian institutions. The authors dead-on about the corrosive power split between the core and the 905s (suburbs). On the other hand, I think the article is long on problems, but short on solutions.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2011


I am priced out of the livable part of the city and unwilling to live in the community-starved car based deserts that surround it.

Come to Hamilton! You can still take transit to Toronto if you must, housing is cheap, the escarpment is beautiful and we're a real community (at least the older parts of town). The only drawback is the envy and self-hatred that comes with living in Toronto's shadow.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:27 AM on November 10, 2011


Is there anyone here close enough to the privy council or whoever else decides these things that could "encourage" The Walrus to rechristen themselves as quite literally any other series of words in any language? It's such a tremendous magazine, and I believe I do not buy it because I just can't handle the name. It's so utterly redolent of (poorly) aging 60s nostalgia and lack of both currency and imagination that it gets in the way of enjoying what would otherwise be a magazine I might regularly enjoy. Yes, apparently I'm that intellectually insecure. And pardon the derail.
posted by ~ at 7:41 AM on November 10, 2011


Come to Hamilton!

Dude -- we've got a good thing going. So let's keep it to ourselves, hmm?

posted by Capt. Renault at 7:43 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anything you think you're saving now on snow removal and infrastructure upgrades in Toronto is going to come back in haunt you in the form of law suits and emergency repairs you didn't budget for. The costs may not be incurred on Ford's watch, but they will be his fault.
posted by Hoopo at 9:50 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The costs may not be incurred on Ford's watch, but they will be his fault.

I don't think I have ever read such a succinct description of how conservatives govern.
posted by [citation needed] at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Screw low taxes

The irony is that Mississauga has higher property taxes than Toronto (though home prices are lower). It's relatively more expensive to maintain a less dense city, for obvious reasons.

To me, the most regrettable thing about Ford's tenure so far is his killing of Transit City. Some high-profile things he's done are actually good for urban transit (replacing the bike lane on Jarvis with a separated lane on Sherbourne will be better for both cars and bikes, and the only reason that it was so opposed is that a lot of cyclists are also culture warriors, like Ford). His horrendous attempt to take over Port Lands redevelopment was mercifully stopped in its tracks. But Transit City is not coming back. We could have had three rapid transit lines - Finch, Sheppard, Eglinton - with minimal impact on car traffic. Now we'll get one - Eglinton - with a little less impact on cars, at vastly greater cost. Finch is dead and Sheppard will never get off the ground, because there won't be anywhere near enough private money to fund it.

I'd love to see a huge, dense network of subways all over Toronto. That would be great - a huge improvement to the livability and economic capacity of the city. But as long as health care increases keep sucking in every available tax dollar at the provincial level, I don't see how it's going to happen.
posted by Dasein at 11:05 AM on November 10, 2011


The irony is that Mississauga has higher property taxes than Toronto...

Are they? I thought they had kept taxes artificially low because they were getting crazy money in development fees? (I could totally be wrong on that.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:11 AM on November 10, 2011


2011 Residential Property tax rates across the GTA:

Toronto - 0.79%
Markham - 0.93%
Vaughan - 0.95%
Mississauga - 0.96%
Brampton - 1.18%
Pickering - 1.35%
Ajax - 1.36%

Toronto's residential rate for property taxes is very low - especially considering the amount of service the city provides. Moving our rate to match Markham would bring in money that could be used to either help eliminate the structural deficit that Mayor Ford keeps talking about or improve our infrastructure.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:26 AM on November 10, 2011


We should eliminate property taxes - they have too much potential to be regressive, hitting people on limited incomes whose property has increased in value.

We should have a municipal income tax.
posted by jb at 11:37 AM on November 10, 2011


We should eliminate property taxes - they have too much potential to be regressive, hitting people on limited incomes whose property has increased in value.

Would this not make homes an even better investment and encourage the rich to buy up more property? I already can't afford the price of a home in Toronto or Vancouver, and I'm not losing any sleep thinking that people with million dollar homes have to put some cash into the public coffers.
posted by Hoopo at 12:44 PM on November 10, 2011


We should eliminate property taxes - they have too much potential to be regressive, hitting people on limited incomes whose property has increased in value.

There are things that could be done to make property taxes less regressive in that situation: The city could give relief for people on limited incomes (like they do already); Property taxes could have brackets just like the land transfer taxes do (so people with more expensive properties pay at a higher rate); The city could reassess property values only after a transfer of property, keeping taxes roughly the same for as long as the current owner stays in the property (yes MPAC is the one doing the assessments and they do so on their own schedule, but the city doesn't need to use the new assessed value). Just like the regressiveness of the HST is mitigated by those quarterly cheques that get sent out to lower income people, the regressiveness of property taxes can be mitigate by rebates or other measures as well.

For a municipal income tax to be workable you'd need the province to make it apply everywhere - ie no city could levy property taxes but they could each levy their own income taxes. If cities are allowed to set their own rates implementation costs will be much higher than what they are for property taxes, if it is one rate for every city then some cities will end up with more than they need and some will be caught short. Plus there are questions of fairness going that route as well - if everyone pays then it may hit renters or families with multiple earners much more than the current regime, but if only owners pay then people will purchase property in the name of a non-earning spouse/relative and sign on as a guarantor to get mortgage financing resulting in the city getting much less revenue.

jb - If you could expand on how the municipal income taxes would work that would be helpful.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:58 PM on November 10, 2011


I lived in the Toronto area for a month while doing training for a new job. Previously I had visited Toronto and loved it, the downtown was vibrant, there was a lot to do, and getting around was easy. But that was Toronto. My company put me up in a hotel in Markham, and the office I had to travel to every day was in Mississauga. Which gave me a shocking realization that this dreary existence was how most people in the GTA actually lived. Now I understand why Rob Ford could get elected - living that terrible suburban existence is bound to make a person bitter and hateful.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:22 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just like the regressiveness of the HST is mitigated by those quarterly cheques that get sent out to lower income people, the regressiveness of property taxes can be mitigate by rebates or other measures as well.

Derail, but in my own experience as a former recipient of sales tax rebates, that shit mitigates nothing. You're probably not spreading that cheque out, it's a windfall and you're probably going out to dinner and spending it all (or in my case buying a case of beer). Which is nice, and something it's really great to be able to do once for a change, but week to week you're still going to struggle as you always did, rebate or no. Probably buys a few votes though.
posted by Hoopo at 1:46 PM on November 10, 2011


Space Coyote, no one in Mississauga or Markham voted for Rob Ford, because those are different cities. People voted for Rob Ford because they were tired of David Miller caving in to unions and caring more about green roofs and bicycle lanes than their tax rates. Now we have a mayor on the other side of the culture war who's just as uninterested in tackling our long-term fiscal challenges, so hooray for us.
posted by Dasein at 2:09 PM on November 10, 2011


Derail, but in my own experience as a former recipient of sales tax rebates, that shit mitigates nothing. You're probably not spreading that cheque out, it's a windfall and you're probably going out to dinner and spending it all (or in my case buying a case of beer).

Well, whether it's a tax rebate or a welfare cheque, it can be misspent, but that doesn't mean it's not real help. I imagine that if you're struggling to pay rent, a $150 cheque would make a difference.
posted by Dasein at 2:12 PM on November 10, 2011


Directly comparing the tax rate of Toronto to Missisauga is inappropriate, since the rate (sometimes called mill rate) adjusts according to property taxes. Generally, in municipal budgets, the mill rate is determined after the revenue needs are determined. If property values go up -- as in the currently overheated housing market -- nominal mill rates go down (assumming spending remains roughly constant). Toronto property values are so much higher than Missassauga, the actual taxes levied are likely much higher while the rate is lower. This also takes some of the edge off the apparently regressive nature of property taxes. If you could afford your house and its taxes 5 years ago, chances are you still can, even if the value has tripled in the interim. Increases in the absolute rate will more properly be a function of the vagaries of provincial funding and the spending commitments that municipal politicians make.
posted by bumpkin at 2:24 PM on November 10, 2011


I've been low-income my whole life (next year may be the year I crack $25,000, yay!) and I've never gotten one sales tax rebate EVER. I did my taxes, no GST money. The only people I know who got GST money were the children of people whose household income was in the 90th percentile.

I have no idea how municipal income tax would work. I'm a historian/research co-ordinator. Make all municipal expenses payable out of federal or provincial income tax, I don't care.

All I know is that income tax is the only tax that actually can be scaled so that those who have more pay a higher percentage. A house may be worth a million dollars, but if you're a senior citizen, you just won't be able to pay. I know a woman who bought a house in the 1960s, it's a medium-sized family home, she was middle-middle class (as in actually a median-level income) and is now retired. She can't help that her neighbourhood had gotten extremely popular and posh. And that house has absolutely no monetary value until it is sold - so that "million dollars" is fictional money. It's wood and brick and her things.

Wealth that doesn't make money isn't really wealth - capital or property that generates an income is one thing, but just possessions don't have a value. A house will make money when it is sold; tax the value of the house then. But before that, the "value" is meaningless.
posted by jb at 2:28 PM on November 10, 2011


Trains, trains and more trains. Please.

Everyone in this city would love more trains. The question is: who's going to pay for them? The Ontario government pulled out of regular funding back in 1995, the federal government ignores the issue, and Mayor Rob Ford is sure not going to raise taxes for it. Plus, there's the 5-10 year wait on any new transit lines (the Spadina Line Extension has been in the works since 2006). Meanwhile half of the city streets are under some sort of repair, and bus routes are so starved of funding that service cuts are being planned despite a ballooning demand.

I have lived in Toronto since 1993, and I have learned not to get my hopes up about transit plans. Before anyone talks about how nice it would be to have a subway network like New York or London or Madrid or wherever, there should be a strict, grown-up discussion about where the funding for these much-needed subway trains is going to come from. Then we can talk about where the trains are going to go, and when. And it would be nice to write in some sort of iron-clad clauses in the plans so that someone like Rob Ford doesn't wander in midway through the script declaring that the plans are null and void because "hurf durf War-On-Cars" and so forth.
posted by spoobnooble at 2:57 PM on November 10, 2011


Finch is dead

Given the atrocious way they were planning it, this is a wonderful thing. The Transit City plan kept pretending that light rail would be just as useful, and used just as much, if you put the corridor down the middle of the hydro corridor instead of down the middle of Finch Avenue. Transit is convenient and useful only if it takes people where they want to go. Purposely designing a transit service to drop people in the middle of nowhere is an utter waste of money.

We should eliminate property taxes - they have too much potential to be regressive, hitting people on limited incomes whose property has increased in value.

This would just drive housing prices up to even more unsustainable highs, especially when combined with the stupidly low interest rates that the Bank of Canada is maintaining at the moment. Torontonians are already being priced out of Toronto; this would make it worse.

We should have a municipal income tax.

Only if everyone who works in Toronto pays it. (Currently, if you work in New York City but don't live there, you pay zero NYC income tax. If you live in New York City but don't work there, all of your income is subject to NYC income tax. People who commute from Barrie to work in Toronto benefit from Toronto's municipal services; they should help pay for them.)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2011


I didn't realize that about Finch - down the hydro corridor? Really? Weird.

Torontonians are already being priced out of Toronto; this would make it worse.

It's true, but at least we can take comfort that Vancouver has it twice as bad - they're being priced out of their own city by rich Chinese investors. I've heard of real estate agents who will get a call from a client in China and be asked to set up ten or twelve houses for viewing one weekend. They fly in, look at the houses, and buy half of them. I'm not much of a protectionist, but stories like that really make me think that curtailing the property rights of foreigners might be justifiable in some circumstances.

We should have a municipal income tax.

Only if everyone who works in Toronto pays it.


This could introduce the opposite problem - someone living downtown commutes to the suburbs for work, avoids the tax. It would mean that relatively less wealthy suburbanites who commute downtown for work are double-taxed (they pay property tax in Oakville, then income tax in Toronto), while relatively wealthier Torontonians can pay less by relocating their companies to the suburbs. I think it makes the problem worse. The other thing is that while property taxes suck, they're a good reflection of your net worth. You may be paying high taxes, but you can cash out that downtown home and move outside of Toronto and do quite well.
posted by Dasein at 5:58 PM on November 10, 2011


The Finch Line was going to go straight down Finch Ave all the way to the 427. It was only after Ford came into power that the idea of using the hydro corridor was floated as a way of keeping some kind of rapid transit in the area. Instead it all went on burying the Eglinton line.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:46 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This could introduce the opposite problem - someone living downtown commutes to the suburbs for work, avoids the tax.

Not really. There used to be a point at when everyone living and working in NYC paid NYC income tax. Now it's just people who live in NYC. I think it would make sense to apply to a municipal income tax based on residency and source.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:01 PM on November 10, 2011


Well, that would avoid the problem of tax evasion but not double-taxing of people who commute from the suburbs. It would make businesses in the city massively uncompetitive because they'd have trouble recruiting employees from outside Toronto - who would want to pay municipal tax twice if they could just save it by working close to home?
posted by Dasein at 7:23 PM on November 10, 2011


who would want to pay municipal tax twice if they could just save it by working close to home?

New York doesn't have that problem (and didn't have that problem when non-residents earning money in the city had to pay city income tax), and Toronto may be even less susceptible to it, since, as a proportion of the country's GDP, its economy is three and a half times larger than New York's. Canada does not have many big cities.

Toronto is where the high-paying jobs are, for a host of reasons. A municipal income tax wouldn't change that.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:34 PM on November 10, 2011


Toronto is where the high-paying jobs are, for a host of reasons. A municipal income tax wouldn't change that.

A municipal tax may not change the high-paying jobs downtown but what will it do to everyone who isn't working on Bay Street? My office is just south of Steeles. Two of my employees live in Markham and my partner lives in Mississauga. If there's a Toronto income tax and not a Markham one then it makes a lot of sense to move 2km north. A municipal tax may not make a difference to those who live and work in the downtown core but it would hammer the suburbs.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:15 PM on November 10, 2011


jb: I've been low-income my whole life (next year may be the year I crack $25,000, yay!) and I've never gotten one sales tax rebate EVER. I did my taxes, no GST money. The only people I know who got GST money were the children of people whose household income was in the 90th percentile.

I don't get that. I have no income for the past two years, and I've always received a GST/HST rebate. I just got my $65 deposit yesterday, in fact. And when I was working, I never made more than $30K (usually $22-26K) and I still got a GST rebate.
posted by 1000monkeys at 8:52 PM on November 10, 2011


The other thing is that while property taxes suck, they're a good reflection of your net worth. You may be paying high taxes, but you can cash out that downtown home and move outside of Toronto and do quite well.

But what does that do to the sense of community which we all seem to agree is so important? You can't build a healthy, multi-income community if you start willy-nilly ejecting everybody who can't pay your newly raised property taxes.

Traditionally, in Toronto, city planners sought to control housing costs in such a way as to break up blocks of income uniformity. This made for exceptionally healthy and harmonious communities. Treating housing as some kind of fungible asset goes in precisely the opposite and, I would argue, wrong direction.

Furthermore, it risks ignoring the very real emotional attachments people have to their homes and communities. "Sorry oldster, your house is too expensive for you now, and would be better used by a rich yuppie! Better move to Markham, were your grandkids can visit you twice a year!"
posted by Dreadnought at 10:14 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


A municipal tax may not make a difference to those who live and work in the downtown core but it would hammer the suburbs.

I don't think that's true. City income tax isn't causing people to flee from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens aren't being emptied out in favor of nearby Nassau and Westchester Counties, or from Manhattan to Hoboken/Jersey City.

You can't build a healthy, multi-income community if you start willy-nilly ejecting everybody who can't pay your newly raised property taxes.

Do what Florida does. If you live in your home, the first $50,000 of its value is completely exempt from property taxes, and the year-over-year increase in its assessed value cannot be more than the increase in the CPI or 3%, whichever is lower. Increase the millage rate to be revenue-neutral, and suddenly foreign investors get to experience some of the pain caused by buying homes and letting them sit empty. And retirees won't suddenly find themselves priced out of their own homes.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:57 AM on November 11, 2011


aren't being emptied out
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:58 AM on November 11, 2011


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