Toronto looks to Calgary’s conversion recipe

Friday, October 27, 2023

Calgary’s conversion recipe could have some ingredients to likewise help transform underused office space into housing in Toronto. City Council’s planning and housing committee has adopted a motion urging a closer look at the downtown Calgary development incentive program.

If the full Toronto Council approves, city staff would be directed to take Calgary’s approach for encouraging office-to-residential conversions into consideration as part of a recently launched study to assess Toronto’s future office demand and the potential for introducing more alternative uses. The committee’s motion particularly references Calgary’s “efforts to expedite reviews and provide financial incentives” as elements of interest.

The motion also calls on the Canadian government to fulfill a commitment to create a federal grant to support the conversion of office and retail space into residential uses. Councillor Brad Bradford, the initiator of the motion, emphasizes the need to examine and revise rules and policies so that prospective conversion proponents can take advantage of any incentives that might become available.

“Given the changing nature of work and the ongoing housing crisis, it is time to reevaluate the need for office space. The City of Toronto must remove barriers to the creation of new housing at every opportunity,” he states in a letter to the planning and housing committee.

Advocates for the commercial real estate and development sector also voice support for the motion.

“As an association representing office building interests, it is unusual for us to recommend policies that would result in less office space,” observes Leona Savoie, chair of government relations for NAIOP Greater Toronto. “However, with a significant oversupply of office space lasting potentially for decades, allowing more flexibility for physical conversions, alternative non-residential uses or a change of zoning to allow for a full redevelopment, will help foster the sector’s overall health and help address the housing crisis.”

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