TO Council makes Toronto Realty Agency a reality

May 24, 2017

“Our city’s real estate is our most valuable asset,” Councillor Joe Cressy said to city council Wednesday night, speaking about the formation of a new City of Toronto real estate agency. “With 24 agencies, boards, and corporations controlling real estate and doing real estate deals, across more than 8,500 properties, and valued at nearly $30 billion, it’s enormous.”

Toronto council voted to move forward with the Toronto Realty Agency, a new organization that will be formed with staff from Build Toronto and Toronto Port Lands Company as well as city staff from city real estate and facilities management departments and new hires. The vision for the new group aims to coordinate activities city-wide. The composition of the new board, to take effect Jan. 1, 2018, will include the mayor or his or her designate, two city councilors, and six members of the public. Current advisory board members Dino Chiesa (as chair), Linda Robinson and Stephen Taylor will be on the interim board, as well as chairs of the Toronto Transit Commission board, Build Toronto board, and the Toronto Public Library board.

Josie Scioli, chief corporate officer at the City of Toronto, says the new management team will work with councillor and program managers. “Let us assume there’s a site that we want to build on, and it’s a community hub per say – this [new] organization would be working with the appropriate stakeholders, whether they’re councillors or program owners – bringing together and working with the folks to solidify what the design will look like and actually lead the city building requirement.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam supported the development of a new agency, while speaking about a number of problems she sees with the current process. “Currently, the City of Toronto is not managing its real estate assets very well… we lose opportunities all the time,” Wong-Tam said, blasting the city for not building enough affordable housing. “We talk about it a lot but we haven’t been building it. We haven’t been creative in how we’re going to maximize our assets to bring out better public outcomes.”

“We also have not been modernizing our paper trail,” Wong-Tam said. “It is very, very, difficult to have an understanding of accountability on how decisions have been made in the past, because people leave the corporation, and it is very challenging to find out who has access to that lease agreement that may have been signed 25 years ago, and are there any terms of renewal, are there any conditions that we need to be mindful of. It just seems like constantly we are reinventing the wheel, trying to play catch-up, when we need information and it slows things down.”

Councillor Norm Kelly also supported the agency formation, and spoke to some of the challenges involved in the move toward organizational culture change. Not only will the new agency coordinate existing real estate activities but it could also initiate new ones, “and that’s perhaps where friction might be generated.” Another potential hurdle to overcome is standardizing procedure across the city. “Harmonization, Speaker, is a very easy word to pronounce, but having chaired the Planning and Growth Management Committee, when we were harmonizing the sign bylaw, when we were harmonizing the various bylaws of the city, I can tell you that’s a very awkward process and I think that would have to be done with a certain sensitivity.”

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong approved of the future direction for the new group. “We still have [real estate staff within] TTC, police service, parks and rec, you name it – across the whole organization – and they’re not really expert at what they do, and they all think that property is theirs, and it’s not the city’s. The next step is really important – it’s more important than this step, really – and it’s to bring all these organizations together.”

“We want a real estate framework that will stand the test of time,” Councillor Cressy said to council. “We want a real estate framework that will represent the entire city. A real estate framework so that if we have a mayor that is way to the right, or way to the left, or right in the middle, it doesn’t matter, we have a framework for governance that works and I think that’s the intention here.”

Related stories:

Politicians talk savings; Board Chairs talk strategy (Dec. 6, 2016)

City of Toronto gets modern (Nov. 23, 2016)