Friday, May 26, 2017

All Hell Breaks Loose In Toronto's House Price Bubble

“It’s fear.”
During the first two weeks in May, according to preliminary data from Toronto Real Estate Board, home listings surged 47% from the same period last year even as sales plunged 16%. The average selling price dropped 3.3% from April – and this, after a 33% year-over-year spike in home prices in March and a 25% surge in April. Something is happening to Toronto’s blistering house price bubble.
Canada’s largest alternative mortgage lender, Home Capital Group, which focuses on new immigrants and subprime borrowers turned down by the banks, is melting down after a run on its deposits that crushed its funding sources. The industry is worried about contagion.
At the same time, the provincial government of Ontario announced a slew of drastic measures, including a 15% tax on purchases by non-resident foreign investors to tamp down on the housing market insanity that left many locals unable to buy even a modest home.
It comes after Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz warned in April that home prices are in “an unsustainable zone,” that the market “has divorced itself from any fundamentals that we can identify,” that there was “no fundamental story that we could tell to justify that kind of inflation rate in housing prices,” and that “It’s time we remind folks that prices of houses can go down as well as up. People need to ask themselves very carefully, ‘Why am I buying this house?”’
A few days ago, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Canada’s six largest banks on concerns over their exposure to the housing bubble and household indebtedness that ranks among the highest in the world.

Now even the relentlessly optimistic industry begins to fret:

“We are seeing people who paid those crazy prices over the last few months walking away from their deposits,” Carissa Turnbull, a Royal LePage broker in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, told Bloomberg. She said they didn’t get a single visitor to an open house over the weekend. “They don’t want to close anymore.”

“Definitely a perception change occurred from Home Capital,” Shubha Dasgupta, owner of Toronto-based mortgage brokerage Capital Lending Centre, told Bloomberg.

“In less than one week we went from having 40 or 50 people coming to an open house to now, when you are lucky to get five people,” Case Feenstra, an agent at Royal LePage Real Estate Services Loretta Phinney in Mississauga, Ontario, told Bloomberg. “Everyone went into hibernation.”

“I’ve had situations where buyers are trying to find another buyer to take over their deal,” Toronto real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder told Bloomberg. Some clients want out of transactions, he said. “They are nervous whether they bought right at the top and prices may come down.” Home Capital had “a bigger impact on the market” than Ontario’s announcement of the new rules, he said.

“Home Capital is affecting things because people who can’t get mortgages from the banks rely on them and other b-lenders,” Lorand Sebestyen, an agent with iPro Realty in Toronto, told Bloomberg. “If you can’t get the mortgage then you obviously can’t buy anything and it’s going to affect the market, especially for the higher-priced properties.”

“It’s fear,” said Joanne Evans, owner of Century 21 Millennium, about the impact of Home Capital on housing. “It’s another contributing factor to the fear of ‘what’s going to happen?”’

And it’s ever so slowly sinking in more broadly.

In Canada, the theory has spread that real estate values can never-ever go down in any significant way – on the theory that they always go up – because they didn’t take a big hit during the Financial Crisis, and because the prior declines have been forgotten. So optimism about rising home prices had been huge. Now weekly polling data by Nanos Research for Bloomberg is showing the first signs of second thoughts. Two weeks ago, the share of people saying home prices would rise in the next six months was a record 50.1%. The following week, it dropped to 47.7%. In the most recent poll, it dropped to 46%.
But those who are able to sell at what appears to be the very tippy-top of the market are not complaining. Bloomberg cites business school professor Michael Hartmann who put his north Toronto home up for sale on May 17 sold it on May 22 for C$1.65 million, C$10,000 above asking price. He and his wife are planning to rent and see.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Toronto Housing Affordability Crisis

The Toronto region’s shockingly high house prices haven’t stopped the city from achieving one of the highest home ownership rates in the developed world, up 23 per cent over the past 35 years.

Toronto’s ownership rate, at 68 per cent, is behind only Oslo, Norway (69 per cent), and Calgary (74 per cent) among 38 western cities.

But ownership doesn’t equal affordability, says a sweeping study on the Toronto region’s housing crunch to be published Tuesday.

It suggests the Toronto area will need up to $150 billion in new home construction in the coming decade and most of that should be rental units to make housing more affordable.

The report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, a research firm, paints a picture of two cities in one. It shows that half of Toronto-area residents are overhoused, with 2.2 million empty bedrooms. (There are 400,000 homes in Ontario that have three or more empty bedrooms, according to the report.)

But it would take only about 350,000 bedrooms to appropriately house the 20 per cent of Toronto residents, most of them families, who are shelter-poor.

“If this was happening to our food chain or our water supply, we would have a visceral reaction. But because it’s happening in a very slow-burn housing market, it’s like heating up the frog very slowly in the pan — it doesn’t notice until it’s too late,” said Paul Smetanin, the centre’s CEO, who has assessed the effect of more than 40 housing affordability factors.

House prices are half the problem. But our obsession with home ownership is a big contributor, too, he said.

Toronto has restricted vast swaths of the city to single-family detached homes. That has led to a shortage of appropriate housing.

Smaller households are the most overhoused, as they are in neighbourhoods where the population is shrinking and aging. Meanwhile, larger families — with five or more people — are most likely to be underhoused in high-density apartments without enough bedrooms.

There’s also a shortage of ground-level homes known as the “missing middle” — townhomes, row houses, duplexes and small apartments — that would appeal to families.

Those, along with secondary suites, should have a greater presence in single-family neighbourhoods, but zoning doesn’t allow for it, Smetanin said.

The economic analysis centre has developed a Shelter Consumption Affordability Ratio index that measures housing affordability far beyond a household’s mortgage payments or rent. It factors in shelter-related expenses such as the cost of transportation to work and school, utilities, maintenance and property taxes.

Then it uses computer modelling to assess the effect other factors have on affordability. These range from property speculation to household debt levels and income levels, which have remained essentially flat for 30 years as housing prices continued to climb.

The index results show that one in three Toronto-area residents, and one in four in Ontario, suffers extreme affordability pressure.

“It is serious and has serious consequences for the development of our communities and the economy,” Smetanin said.

The report, “Understanding the Forces Driving the Shelter Affordability Issue,” was funded by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, the Ontario Association of Architects and the Ontario Construction Secretariat.

It will be presented at a conference Tuesday on the issue of “missing middle” housing in the region, which will include a panel of mayors from Mississauga, Brampton, Barrie and Ajax.

Data shows that rental housing acts as oil in the engine of housing markets, Smetanin said. It also illustrates the stigma attached to renting.

“If you reduce oil in an engine, you get heat and the heat starts to transpire as high housing prices, difficulty in moving and uncertainty. While your engine’s getting hotter, you’re not getting any faster or going somewhere quicker,” he said.

Most underhousing occurs in rentals.

“When you look at the data and the demographics of rental, it almost looks like that’s where we’ve parked all our luggage as a society — if you don’t own your own home, you’re a loser,” he said.

Property speculators fuel the expectation that prices will go up and they crowd out families looking for appropriately sized and priced homes.

“Investors are fine, but free market forces are not necessarily pleasant … You get winners and losers,” Smetanin said. “Sometimes the losers are completely unintended. They’re not people who took too much risk and should have been slapped on the wrist. They’re people who are trying to satisfy their needs. At times, letting free market forces do what they want to do hurts people.”

Rather than band-aids such as Ontario’s recently announced foreign buyer tax and expanded rent controls, he said, governments need to look at new concepts for Canadian housing.

In Europe governments, not-for-profit agencies and private industry collaborate on rental housing that is “architecturally relevant and desirable.”

“If we want to change things, we need to change collectively some of our attitudes,” Smetanin said. “If you do things the old way with the same people, but expect something different, then I believe Einstein mentioned that was the definition of insanity.”

Toronto housing in numbers


Percentage of Toronto housing that is single detached homes, compared to 35% for apartments or condos and 20% in townhomes or “missing middle” housing


Proportion of Toronto-area condos that are rented out


Of Toronto-area commuters spend 45 minutes or more each way getting to work or school


Of Toronto-area commuters travel by car, compared to 85% outside the region


Proportion of people in two-person households who are overhoused


Proportion of people in households of seven or more people who are underhoused


Proportion of Ontario residents aged 65 and older who are overhoused Please share this

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Province replacing Ontario Municipal Board with less powerful tribunal

TORONTO -  Ontario municipalities will have more power over building their communities under major proposed changes to how disputes over planning and development are adjudicated in the province.

Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro announced Tuesday that the Ontario Municipal Board will be replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal with legislation that will be introduced later this month.

“If our reforms pass, there would be fewer and shorter hearings and a more efficient decision-making process, and there would be more deference to local land-use planning decisions, and there would be a more level planning field for residents wanting to participate,” Mauro said.

The Ontario Municipal Board, an independent adjudicative body, currently conducts hearings and makes decisions on planning and development matters, including issues relating to zoning by-laws, subdivision plans and ward boundaries.

Under new reforms, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal will have less power.

It will only make decisions on whether or not a municipality has followed its official land use plans. If it hasn’t, the issue will be sent back to the municipality for reconsideration. Only if the municipality fails to come to a decision or fails to follow the planning process a second time would a full hearing be held, with the tribunal making a final decision.

That will mean fewer municipal decisions can be overturned than under the current process, in which each dispute is treated as if it were new, disregarding the decision the local government has made.

The reforms will also give municipalities the power to prohibit residents and developers from appealing local government decisions in areas immediately around major transit hubs, said Mauro.

The development industry might not welcome the change, he noted.

“They, perhaps, it’s fair to say, might have preferred status quo, but we don’t agree,” said Mauro. “We don’t think that’s the way to go.”

The status quo has long been criticized as tilted in favour of developers, who’ve been able to appeal municipalities’ decisions and ultimately build something more profitable, such as a taller condo building with more units than a local council wanted.

Toronto City Councillor Josh Matlow the new changes will make it easier for local leaders to plan their communities, without having to bargain with developers and fear being overruled by the tribunal.

“Finally, the government is taking substantive steps to tip the balance of power towards communities, locally elected bodies and local planners, rather than developers’ financial interests,” he said.

Hearings will be also quicker, relying only on written submissions without witness examinations.

The reforms also include giving legal information and support to residents who want to appeal a municipal decision. Decisions will be written in plain language and made public, said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Two TTC Toronto transit workers fail new drug and alcohol testing protocol

New policy came into effect May 8, with 51 tests to be performed this week
Random drug and alcohol testing of more than 10,000 TTC employees started on Monday
The very first worker to be tested under the TTC's new random drug and alcohol policy was found to be impaired, the TTC confirmed on Wednesday. Later in the day, a spokesperson said another employee failed a drug test.

A judge recently upheld the TTC's decision to require employees to take random drug and alcohol tests, despite attempts by their union to block the policy.

The worker who was found to be impaired, who is not an operator, blew more than 0.04 on a breathalyzer test, according to Brad Ross, executive director of communications at the transit commission.

​"We are incredibly disappointed at this, but it does affirm our belief for random drug and alcohol testing to drive down the number of instances of impairment that we've seen rise over the last couple of years," he said.

The worker has been suspended with pay, pending the result of their drug test which is due back in two to three days.

The TTC did not immediately provide further details about the second worker that failed a drug test, but a statement is expected later Wednesday.
Thousands of employees to be tested

More than 10,000 TTC employees are subject to random drug and alcohol testing. In this first week of the new policy, there are 51 tests scheduled, with "about seven or eight" taking place each day, Ross explained earlier in the day.

The TTC considers anything over 0.04 as impairment, whereas the 0.02 to 0.039 range is called a "policy violation." Under provincial law, driving with a blood alcohol level over a 0.08 is considered a criminal offence. The "warn range" is between 0.05 and 0.08.

When it comes to the drug test, Ross says the TTC isn't made aware of what drug an employee may test positive for — only that they have passed or failed the test.

"We are not interested in what people do on their own time, recreationally. If they smoke a joint on the weekend, that's of no interest to us," he added. "It becomes an interest to us when they're at work and they're impaired at work."

Ross says the testing is also acting as a deterrent, encouraging people who may have dependencies to come forward and seek the help they need through various programs the agency offers.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Facing $343M budget gap, Toronto could freeze spending in 2018

City staff is recommending Toronto freeze its budget this year, an idea that has the mayor's support but has left some councillors sounding the alarm.

Toronto's budget committee will meet later this week to discuss a new report that calls for all arms of the city to hold budgets where they were in 2017.

To balance its books — something it's required to do by provincial law — the city needs to find some $343 million in savings, even if it increases residential property taxes by two per cent.

Mayor John Tory, speaking at a news conference about the future downtown relief line, said he supports the idea of starting the months-long budget process by taking a "really hard look" at what the city's spending.

"A lot of people are having to make do with the same amount they had last year," he said, adding he thinks those people will be happy to see the city doing the same.

Last year, Tory called for a 2.6 per cent across-the-board budget reduction, although many of the proposed cuts that departments floated were rejected. Tory said he hopes the city can again find a way to hold the line on spending without cutting any services.

Coun. Gord Perks, a fierce critic of last year's budget process, tweeted this year's plan will be a "disaster" for the city.

"How can we ask other governments to pay more for housing, daycare and transit when we freeze our own spending?" he wrote.
TTC, TCH, police will require biggest investments in new year

Operating expenses are expected to increase by $499 million this year, the city report notes, with the TTC, Toronto Community Housing, and police requiring the biggest new investments.

Coun. Janet Davis, who fought against proposed child-care cutbacks last year, echoed Perks's comments online.

"Yes, the province and feds should pay more, but we have to as well," she wrote.

Every department at the city will be expected to come up with its own plans to meet the target.

"Cost containment, service efficiency, modernization and service level changes as well as revenue strategies are required," the report notes.

The departments will also be expected to report on the "equity impact" — the effect of budget restraint on those it would affect most, including vulnerable populations — of any changes they bring forward.
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City of Toronto may stop Yonge subway extension if province doesn't fund downtown relief line, mayor John Tory says

    Mayor John Tory says the TTC may stop planning work on extending the Yonge subway north if the province doesn't commit to helping fund the future downtown relief line.

Tory, speaking Tuesday at the corner of Gerrard and Carlaw Streets, which sits along the relief line's proposed route, said he's puzzled by hesitation at Queen's Park to commit funding for the project, especially as Ontario has provided $150 million to help study it.   
The line could open by 2031, but Tory says that timeline is entirely dependent on getting all three levels of government to pay for its construction.

That timeline is important, as studies have found that Line 1 will be running at full capacity at that point.

"This new line will be the next major step to relieve crowding on the Yonge line," Tory told reporters.

Currently, the project remains in the planning stage, with city staff hoping to get a Class 3 cost estimate and schedule for the line by 2019.

More planning work has been done on the Yonge subway extension, which will connect Toronto and York Region, but Tory says the city and TTC may have to put that project on hold — especially because it's expected to increase riders on the already crowded Yonge line.

At Queen's Park, provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca pointed out the city's own reports say there's a considerable amount of work that still needs to be done on both projects, and that the government has been supporting that.

Del Duca said his government "is investing more in public transit in the City of Toronto than any other provincial government in history," and said he expects talks on future projects to continue.

Later, Del Duca issued a news release accusing Tory of "playing politics" by threatening to delay transit projects.

"The mayor isn't helping anyone, especially his constituents who want transit built in Toronto," the statement said.
Tory vows city will find a way to pay its share

Previously, the province has pointed out that Toronto hasn't committed its own money to building the relief line, however Tory says it will.

"We will sort out our contribution," he said, adding he had hoped his road-toll plan — blocked by the province earlier this year — would have paid for it.

The mayor had been pressuring the government to commit more money for transit and social housing in the lead-up to its recent budget, which he says lets the city down. He said the city can't afford to stop planning transit projects given Toronto's expected growth.

"We will build and we will build and we will build," he said.

"We are committed to building a system that will catch up."

Tory's executive committee is set to debate the next steps for the relief line and Yonge subway extension at its meeting next Tuesday. 

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More Toronto immigrants 'fleeing to the suburbs' as Toronto housing prices keep rising

After Bassam Mansoob moved to Canada from Australia a year ago, he started hunting for a house in the GTA.

The high prices of both housing and insurance in Toronto were a "cultural shock," says the 32-year-old software engineer, who works downtown in Liberty Village.

Even homes as far west as Burlington were too pricey, he says. So, despite the lengthy commute, Mansoob and his family — including his wife and five-month-old daughter — wound up settling in Stoney Creek, a suburban community in Hamilton.

The decision was mostly about affordability, Mansoob says.

"I can't afford to spend that much living closer to the city, paying that much in insurance, property tax and whatnot," he told CBC Toronto.

And he's far from the only immigrant opting for the suburbs, rather than the core.

A new Statistics Canada study released on Monday shows the number of immigrants moving to the suburbs around Toronto, instead of settling downtown, is rising. And many experts say the high rent and housing prices in Toronto, where the average home now costs nearly $921,000, could be a big part of the shift.
Immigrant population living in suburbs up 10 per cent

More than half of the immigrant population in the Toronto census metropolitan area — which includes surrounding communities like Brampton, Oakville, Milton, Vaughan, Pickering and Ajax — was living in a municipality peripheral to Toronto in 2011, up from 40 per cent a decade earlier, according to the paper from Mireille Vézina and René Houle.

"Immigrants tend to move more and more to peripheral municipalities and new immigrants, even, tend to settle directly in peripheral municipalities, whereas in the past, immigrants tended to land in the core city centres like Toronto," said Houle. "The pattern is changing rapidly."

It's a similar scene in Vancouver and Montreal, something the researchers call the "suburbanization of immigrants," but the researchers say Toronto has seen the sharpest rise.

The trend makes sense to Harshal Dalal, who originally hails from India, moved to Canada in 2010, and wound up settling down in Oakville with his wife and two daughters.

"I think just the cost of housing in the city is much more, and that should be no surprise to anyone," he says. "You can get much more for your buck than you would get in Toronto."
People 'fleeing to the suburbs'

Houle, as well, speculates housing costs are playing a role in the trend — a sentiment echoed by housing and immigration experts.

"I'm sure money is part of it," says Graham Haines, research and policy manager with the Ryerson City Building Institute. "Living in Toronto — living close to Toronto — is becoming more and more expensive."

"As that cost increases, people are fleeing to the suburbs for cheaper rents and mortgages," echoes Margaret Eaton, executive director of Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Both say municipalities throughout Halton, York and Durham regions — all hot real estate markets as well, where house prices have spiked in spots like Oshawa and Oakville in recent years — need to prepare for the ongoing influx of immigrants.

Surburban communities need to "build in the services immigrants are looking for, the opportunities to set up new business," Haines explains.

Eaton says those kinds of supports are crucial, particularly since immigrants tend to struggle to get jobs that match their education and experience, and also face a higher unemployment rate than the general population.

"I worry that as we push immigrants out to the farther reaches of the city, and they still have to either own a car to get to work or spend hours on transit, that we just create further inequality and reduce opportunities for people," she says.

Like so many GTA residents — both immigrants and born-and-raised Canadians alike — Mansoob is now living that reality: Priced out of Toronto, and facing a lengthy daily commute.

"If it was possible to live closer to the main city downtown, I would've done that," Mansoob says.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Toronto's Top 10 Shopping Malls

Shopping malls in Toronto are places we all love to hate but still find ourselves at time after time when we're hunting for an outfit, grabbing a bite to eat, or looking for an escape from bad weather.
Here are my picks for the top shopping malls in and around Toronto.
Yorkdale Shopping Centre
A trip to this North York mall regularly starts off with a stressful experience trying to secure a parking spot. However, once you're finished that battle you have access to 250+ stores including AllSaints, Canada Goose and Oak + Fort.
Scarborough Town Centre
Sometimes unfairly maligned for being east of Victoria Park, this Scarborough mall is a useful, logically planned resource for shoppers more interested in variety than marble floors and designer duds. It's a mix of major chains, big box retailers and independent shops.
CF Sherway Gardens
This Etobicoke mall is home to many of the same shops as the Eaton Centre, Yorkdale and Bayview Village, adequately servicing west-enders with plenty of upscale choices. The mall, best known for its iconic tented roof, is the city's best for a day of relaxed window shopping.
CF Fairview Mall
This North York shopping centre manages to pack a lot - books, booze, small appliances, toys and fashion for every age and budget - into a manageable space, meaning shoppers can find everything they want without having to give up an entire day.
CF Shops at Don Mills
This outdoor complex has brought highbrow shopping to what was once a humble neighbourhood. The European piazza feel of the central courtyard and dining options that stay open late inject some liveliness to the area. Big brand stores like Calvin Klein and Guess can be found here.
Pacific Mall
Dubbed the "Largest Chinese Indoor Mall in North America," this Markham destination is more about visual over-stimulation and snacking on addictive treats than stocking up on the necessities. Many of the nearly 500 shops offer the cutesy, kitschy and unusual.
CF Toronto Eaton Centre
Though it's overcrowded and inefficient, the city's largest mall remains a fashion destination, with stores like Saks, Uniqlo and Nordstom. It's important to note that it's best to stay away on weekends and holidays, unless you fancy a trip to the human  zoo.
Vaughan Mills
This outlet mall delivers bargains from Joe Fresh and outlet versions of almost every major shoe store, as well as nostalgic entertainment from Lucky Strike bowling.
Bayview Village Shops
As one of Toronto's pricier malls this is a great place to visit for when it's pay day or you're in desperate need of some retail therapy. High end shops like Davids, Sandro and Brian Bailey line the halls.
Square One Shopping Centre
Practically a city unto itself, this Mississauga mall is similar to Scarborough Town Centre in its mix of independent, chain and big box retailers. Here you'll find everything from Michael Kors to Dollarama.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Torstar Corp Publisher of the Toronto Star Reports $24.4 Million LOSS on Declining Newspaper and Digital Revenues

Torstar Corp. lost $24.4 million, or 30 cents per share, and cut 110 jobs in the first quarter of 2017, as the company’s core traditional revenue streams continued to plummet in line with broad media industry trends.

 Digital revenues, where the newspaper company has vested much of its hope for future growth, also took a slight dip.

Shares of the company fell as much as 22.3 per cent to $1.29 in morning trading, before paring some of the losses. It was down 8.4 per cent at midday.

The loss, which covers the three months ended March 31, is an improvement over the same period last year when Torstar fell $53.5 million short.

Revenue at the publisher, which owns the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator and Metro commuter papers among others, fell $18.1 million or 10 per cent year-over-year to $156.7 million in the quarter.

That decline was impacted in particular by print advertising revenue, which fell 19 per cent, and subscriber revenue, which fell 9.5 per cent.

Torstar’s struggles to maintain print advertising and subscriber revenues are neither new nor surprising, as newspaper publishers in Canada and throughout the world have seen spending migrate rapidly to online competitors in the ad market, including tech giants like Facebook and Google, prompting job cuts and cost restructuring year after year. (Australia’s Fairfax Media, one of the largest publishers in that country and the owner of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, announced Wednesday it will cut 125 staff, or a quarter of its newsrooms, in an effort to save AU$30 million.)

Torstar said the 110 positions that were eliminated related to “Metroland (Media)’s closing of a small printing plant and to the closing of a small mail room,” and said they will result in $5.3 million in annualized savings.

Meanwhile, the company’s digital revenues fell four per cent in the first quarter after marginal gains throughout 2016: It attributed that decline to weak performance at websites Workopolis, WagJag and, while online forum operator VerticalScope, which Torstar holds a 56 per cent stake in, saw revenue grow $1.5 million or 18 per cent. Management said it expects print advertising declines to continue, but believes digital revenues will stabilize through 2017, including further growth at VerticalScope.

Torstar continued to wind down investment in its most ambitious project in recent years, the once promising tablet app Toronto Star Touch, noting that it made a $3.7 million lower net investment in the app during the first quarter.

Launched in the fall of 2015, Star Touch repeatedly failed to meet readership expectations: the company once trumpeted hopes of 200,000 weekly users, instead hitting a ceiling of 60,000.

Torstar’s new CEO John Boynton, who took over from David Holland in March, made a candid admission when asked on an investor’s call about continued take-up of the app, conceding that “the volume doesn’t look like it’s progressing at all.”

“Part of why I’m here is I’m excited by the assets,” added Boynton, who said one of his short term goals will be to assess consumer segments and best align Torstar’s properties with them. “I think the asset collection itself is exciting if we can put it together in a different way… We’re not looking at rounding the edges, we’re looking to do something significant.”

Boynton also noted that Torstar ended the first quarter with no bank indebtedness (the company reported $59.4 million in cash and equivalents and $9.1 million of restricted cash), adding it is “not normal in North America for this industry.” Torstar’s largest Canadian competitor, Postmedia Network Inc., remains heavily indebted after completing a restructuring deal of its debt last year.

In an investment note, RBC Capital Markets analyst Drew McReynolds said Torstar’s results were “weaker than expected.” RBC estimated Torstar’s segmented revenues and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization would come in at $160 million and $9 million respectively, versus the $156.7 million and $2 million reported Wednesday.

McReynolds said the difference between EBITDA estimates and results was due to weak performance at the company’s Star Media Group, which operates the Toronto Star and Metro commuter papers, and Metroland Media, which operates weekly and community newspapers throughout Ontario. According to RBC, the “relentless newspaper pressure” overshadowed growth at VerticalScope, but the online forum operator’s steady growth and stable advertising rates made for a silver lining on shares.

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Toronto Home Price Growth Slows as New Listings Soar: Toronto Real Estate

  • Average price rises 25% to C$920,791 after 33% jump in March
  • New listings jump 34% as Ontario imposes foreign buyer tax
Toronto home price gains slowed in April and new listings soared the most in seven years, signaling the red-hot market may be cooling after the Ontario government imposed new measures to curb runaway gains in Canada’s biggest city.

Housing prices jumped 25 percent last month from a year earlier, down from the 33 percent annual increase in March. The average price of C$920,791 ($671,000) in April was just 0.5 percent higher than in March, according to figures from the Toronto Real Estate Board.

In further signs of a slowdown, sales fell 3.2 percent to 11,630 units, the first year over year decline since 2014. The number of new homes on the market jumped 34 percent to 21,630, the biggest increases since 2010, the figures released Wednesday show.

“If new listings growth continues to outpace sales growth moving forward, we will start to see more balanced market conditions,”  Jason Mercer, head of market analysis at the real estate board, said in a statement. “It will likely take a number of months to unwind the substantial pent-up demand that has built over the past two years.”

Mercer predicted that annual home price growth on a monthly basis will remain “well-above the rate of inflation as we move through the spring and summer months.”

The sales slowdown and jump in listings suggest the Ontario government’s moves to curb price gains may be having an effect. The government announced a 16-point housing plan on April 20, including a 15 percent tax on foreign home buyers and expanded rent controls. A similar tax in British Columbia slowed home price growth in Vancouver last year, although prices there rebounded 11 percent in April from a year earlier.

“It is too early to tell whether the increase in new listings was simply due to households reacting to the strong double-digit price growth reported over the past year or if some of the increase was also a reaction to the Ontario government’s recently announced” housing measures, said board President Larry Cerqua.

The month of May is typically one of the busiest of the year and should provide a better indicator of market direction following the Ontario moves, Mercer said.

The April housing numbers also cover about 10 days of the crisis at embattled mortgage lender Home Capital Group Inc. The Toronto-based company has seen its stock plunge and customers withdraw deposits after it was accused by Ontario’s securities regulator of misleading investors about fraudulent loans. Some economists have said the turmoil may cool the market if it spreads to other mortgage lenders, making it harder for some home buyers to borrow.

Home Capital’s funding woes aren’t “the beginning of the end,” of the housing boom nor does this represent the “ultimate test” for the market, said Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

“The ultimate test will be high interest rates,” he said at a real estate conference in Toronto Wednesday. “The ultimate test will be a recession, and that will come eventually. Home Capital is not the ultimate test.”

Home Capital represents a small segment of the so-called subprime market of borrowers who can’t get a mortgage at a traditional bank yet are still good credits, he added.

“Many of those sub primers, so-called sub-primers, they are a better risk than me because they are self-employed new immigrants with a lot of money that simply don’t fit into the regulation framework so they go elsewhere and are actually doing fine.”

The Toronto Real Estate Board weighed in Wednesday on the ongoing debate over the role non-Canadian investors are playing in the housing boom, as well as on the prevalence of speculation by foreign and domestic homebuyers and multiple home ownership in Toronto and broader Ontario.

The number on all counts “remains low,” the board said in a separate statement. Foreigners have accounted for about 2.3 percent of purchases in the Toronto and Niagara region over the past decade, the board said.

The board noted the Easter holiday may have affected the most recent sales data as it fell in April this year and in March in 2016.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Provincial and Local Liberals Hate Toronto

Toronto city councillor Shelley Carroll clearly had already swallowed the Liberal Kool-Aid when she offered herself up as the party’s candidate Tuesday in the new riding of Don Valley North.

She told the media the Liberal government is an “amazing partner” with Toronto, and has contributed a tremendous amount towards the construction of new transit in the city - in addition to rebuilding public services.

Perhaps the ever ambitious Carroll missed the provincial budget launch last Thursday or is still trying to understand that mounting debt creates a heap of new servicing costs (a point she seemed to continually wrestle with as the former budget chief under Mayor David Miller).

Still, I have no clue what she’s talking about and I’m certain Mayor John Tory would agree.

In fact, either Carroll didn’t read city manager Peter Wallace’s April 28 synopsis of how Toronto fared (or rather didn’t fare) vis-a-vis the Ontario budget, or she chose to ignore it, or the script handed to her by the Wynne Liberals on Tuesday offered an alternate reality (which an ambitious councillor would gladly accept.)

I was not a fan of road tolls when Tory introduced them late last fall. I considered them another tax.

Having said that, Carroll’s would-be leader, Kathleen Wynne, convinced the mayor to expend the political capital to pursue the tolls and once he got council approval (and a fair amount of pushback from Conservative commentators), she threw him under the proverbial bus.

Deciding purely for political expediency to save seats in the 905-area code, Wynne decided not to approve the tolls this past January (tolls which would have given the city $200 million a year).

One would expect, as the mayor did, that Wynne would make up for her sudden politically motivated change of heart in the 2017 budget.

But other than tossing out a few crumbs on programs that are near and dear to the debt-plagued, cash-strapped Wynne government - child care, poverty reduction, youth training, climate change - there was no new money for the issues that really matter to Torontonians.

Sure, the city will be allowed to charge a hotel tax which, when fully implemented, will give them $15 million a year. The proceeds of the vacancy tax is yet to be determined.

But they’re mere crumbs.

Let’s start with transit. There was no pledge to assist with a sorely needed $6-billion downtown relief line.

On the $3.3-billion one-stop Scarborough subway, there was no mention of whether the province will commit to the full $2 billion expected from the city.

(I guess that’s a “No.”)

The only contribution will come from a doubled share of the gas tax, which will give the city $642 million a year by 2021-22. I repeat, by 2021-22.

That’s four budget years away and with any luck, Wynne won’t be Premier by then.

It’s little wonder the city can’t get on with planning for future transit when they’re dealing with a government that doesn’t honour its word and doles out money like an allowance.

Ditto for social housing. I have sat in many a TCHC meeting where the talk turns to capital repairs and the 10-year, $2.6-billion capital plan to try to get ahead of the backlog.

The idea was for the city, province and the feds to each pony up one-third.

To date the city has fulfilled its commitment and the feds have given some money.

The province? Not one red cent.

So much for poverty reduction.

So much for Carroll’s claims that public services have been rebuilt by her would-be leader.

I can’t figure which is crumbling faster: Toronto’s infrastructure or Wynne’s integrity.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Toronto's Financial District Rocked by Hydro Vault Explosion

TORONTO - Firefighters say a hydro vault fire that set off a series of blasts and temporarily shut down streets in Toronto’s downtown core has been extinguished.

Capt. Adrian Ratushniak says the blaze smouldered for more than 12 hours after a series of explosions sent heavy brown smoke billowing from grates on the north side of King St. W., between Yonge and Bay Sts., but crews put out the remains of the fire on Tuesday morning.

He says fire crews will remain on scene as a precaution while hydro crews begin the work of replacing a transformer damaged in the blaze.

There were no injuries in the incident, which began with an initial explosion in a hydro vault shortly after 5 p.m. Monday.

Ratushniak says crews initially had to fight the fire with carbon dioxide gas because dumping water on the energized hydro vault would have been dangerous. They were eventually able to extinguish the blaze with water.

Toronto Hydro has said crews would have to pump water out of the vault and dry the equipment before venturing inside to start repairs.

“Very scary scene,” hydro spokesman Tori Gass told reporters at the site Monday night. “I just want to reassure people, we have been responding to this quickly and actively, I’m sure this happened at a time when it was very busy on the streets, It’s never easy to see something like this happen.”

Toronto Fire Services Platoon Chief Kevin Shaw said Monday that typically rain, humidity, dampness ges into the infrastructure, which may be older and deteriorating, and causes these fires.

 “There’s all sorts of different plastics. Everything is a carcinogen," Shaw said. "Probably some plastics, basically, it’s an electrical fire.”

Pedestrians gathered nearby covered their faces with hands and scarfs, while police who guarded the intersection wore masks as the smoke filled the air.

Mike Amsterdam tweeted out a video of the smoke following the first explosion.

“This was 20 seconds after first explosion,” he wrote. “I had just walked across those grates.”

There were also reports of manhole covers popping up from the street.

The incident had disrupted transit service in the area, but Toronto transit officials said the King subway station returned to operation late Monday and north-south buses along both Yonge and Bay streets were running as usual. The east-west King St. streetcar was still being diverted.

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