Horizontal Neighbourhoods

Iceberg Houses

As stated in Member Motion MM36.33 by Councillors Robinson and Colle at City Council on Oct 1, 2021:

Iceberg houses are single-family detached dwellings, with large, multi-storey underground basements that protrude significantly beyond the surface footprint of the building. In London, England, iceberg houses have resulted in the collapse of neighbouring home foundations, shifting ground levels, and excessive noise and vibration during excavation. As a result, they are significantly restricted in certain areas of the City.

The environmental impacts of iceberg houses are also cause for concern, particularly within sensitive contexts such as ravines and flood plains. The limited soil depth resulting from extended basements can reduce soil permeability, increasing stormwater runoff and disrupting root systems. These applications also often require the injury or removal of trees, while extended basements reduce the viability of on-site replanting post-construction.

In a recent example, an iceberg home was approved by the Committee of Adjustment in the Hoggs Hollow neighbourhood, which is a City-designated Natural Heritage System, despite a report from Urban Forestry recommending refusal. The approval resulted in the loss of nine trees, including a mature sugar maple tree estimated to be roughly 250 years old.

This Motion is urgent because a holistic review of the impacts of this form of development is urgently required to address current and future minor variance and building permit applications for homes with extended, multi-storey basements.

Councillors Robinson and Colle

City Council adopted the motion for Assessing the Impacts of Iceberg Houses requesting Planning, Toronto Water, Engineering and Construction Services, Toronto Building, Parks, Forestry and Recreation and relevant divisions as well as external agencies and research institutions including the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to report back on strategies to address the impacts of “iceberg houses” with specific items defined that are to be included in the report.

FoNTRA submitted a letter supporting this Member’s Motion detailing residents’ associations concerns about the adverse impact of these structures, and the apparent lack of regulatory oversight. “The need for the City to investigate and understand the issues and address these, potentially through multi-faceted regulation, is critical and urgent.”

Vacant Home Tax

In 2019, City Council asked for information related to the possible implementation of a vacant home tax in Toronto.  At the December 2020 meeting, City Council asked staff to develop key tax design features and administrative structures to support a vacant home tax program and to report back with a recommended design by the end of Q2 of 2021, for tax implementation in 2022. A Press Release was issued announcing the approval of an implementation plan for a tax on vacant homes in Toronto.

The goal is not to increase revenue, but to increase the housing supply, by encouraging homeowners to sell or rent their unoccupied home. If they choose to continue to keep the home vacant (or boarded up), a tax is levied. This revenue can then be used to fund affordable housing projects.

Vancouver implemented the “empty homes tax” charge in 2018 and credits that tax for putting more units back on the rental market.1.25% of the assessed value of a property that is neither a principal residence nor rented out for at least six months of the year is charged. That’s on top of the property tax the owner already pays.

Estimates of how much vacant housing is left in Toronto are imprecise. The city has yet to begin monitoring them. But a recent report by city staff suggests that between 9,000 and 27,000 housing units could be sitting vacant. [July 4, 2021]

Using data from Vancouver’s implementation, if 1% of Toronto’s housing stock is vacant, at a tax rate of 1% on the average Toronto home’s current assessed value, this could equal $55 million to $66 million in tax revenue per year. 

A Press Release was issued on July 6, 2021 on the Executive Committee’s approval of a framework for a tax on vacant homes in Toronto starting in 2022. 

At its meeting on July 14-15, 2021, City Council approved the development and implementation of a vacant home tax. A Report from the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer and the Executive Director, Housing Secretariat was presented on Recommended Tax Design and Steps to Implement a Vacant Home Tax in Toronto.

City Council approved in principle the proposed tax design features in Attachment 1 to the Report and also directed that:

  • Public consultation be undertaken including written comments from all stakeholders on the proposed tax design, reporting back during Q4 of 2021 with findings and any modifications.
  • Findings from consultations to ensure compliance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms be included in the report.
  • Any additional tools available to the City be reviewed, such as speculation tax, including those used in other jurisdictions, to discourage the treatment of housing as a commodity.
  • An update be provided by the end of 2023 on the implementation of the Vacancy Home Tax in Toronto, learnings from other jurisdictions that have implemented a similar tax and recommendation be made for any required changes, including any potential increase to the tax rate.

A final report and tax bylaw will be prepared for Council’s review by the end of 2021, possibly at the Dec 15, 2021 meeting.