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Toronto’s Chief Planner on Suburban Mobility at CUI/NRU Event

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“Land use is the best transit resource you can buy. We must continue to align land use and transit planning.”

That was a key message that Gregg Lintern delivered to attendees during the recent Canadian Urban Institute / Novae Res Urbis annual panel discussion with the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner. Lintern and other expert guests were gathered to speak about how to address the challenges around transit and mobility in Toronto’s suburbs as part of the 21st edition of the event.

Transportation can be a challenge in areas within Toronto’s limits that are far from the core, particularly for low-income families. Travelling to work, school or recreation is difficult and time-consuming. Lintern and the panel considered ways to rethink how to approach transportation planning in the region to make suburbs more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, while offering a high quality of life and design.

DiamondCorp’s Laurie Payne moderated the event, image, @CANURB

Laurie Payne, vice-president of Development and Special Projects for DiamondCorp moderated the event. She set the stage by asking rhetorically, “How can we engage communities going forward to positively affect access, livability and mobility in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough? How do we make good use of the infrastructure we have now? And how do we promote mobility in places designed for cars, not people?”

She pointed out that many of the people living in these areas are isolated—often having to commute two hours or more by public transit to and from work. Seniors are especially isolated, relying on infrequent local transit to get to where they are going, or crossing dangerous streets with multiple lanes of traffic that are unfriendly to pedestrians just to reach the bus stop. Moreover, access to frequent transit is not available to suburban areas that also have some of the lowest-incomes in the city. Lower incomes mean many residents do not own a vehicle.

She then introduced Lintern to address the audience. He told the crowd that, while Toronto has a vibrant and dense urban core, it is primarily a suburban city. He said he was very familiar with Toronto’s suburbs—he grew up in the Kipling Heights neighbourhood of north Etobicoke.

GTHA residents face an average commute of 85 minutes daily, Lintern said, image, @CANURB

Much of the suburbs were designed during what Lintern called “The Age of Convenience”—the 1950s and 1960s—and with the idea that residents would mostly get around by car where they wanted to go. In this age, he explained, planners did not conceive that residence and employment could be in the same neighbourhood—work was always some place where you had to travel to.

“What was convenient in the 1950s in now inconvenient in the 2020s”, he said. Lintern noted that many suburbanites face an average commute of 85 minutes daily. However, that may be changing, he said. Sixty percent of the projected growth for Toronto is in the suburbs. If that growth occurs with good land-use planning, Lintern said, that may mean greater mobility for the suburbs. Greater mobility, he explained, results in greater housing choices, which, in turn, produces greater equity.

Land-use planning is the best transit resource you can buy, Lintern told the audience, image, @CANURB

Lintern echoed Payne’s introductory question: The challenge for the City is how to retrofit the suburbs to improve mobility. The answer, he suggests, is to align land use and transit planning, so that transit infrastructure is in place before building takes place. Lintern noted that a large number of major transit projects are currently in design or under construction in Toronto, but also pointed out that, despite this, 70 per cent of the transit trips in the city are by bus or streetcar. He said that the city must plan transportation options to make sure that people can use all modes of transportation—from walking and cycling to local surface transit—so that it can also make sure that those major transportation projects succeed.

An even more important challenge, Lintern concluded, is this: How do you bring people along for the ride? “We have to connect people with the solutions to the mobility issue, by consulting frequently, listening carefully and redesigning new development and new transportation projects by adopting their input.”

Payne then introduced the members of the panel, each of whom made brief presentations. First up: Lintern’s colleague, Barbara Gray, the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services. She talked about work on the City’s Vision Zero plan to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities on streets. She reminded attendees that we must talk about building networks for connected trips within communities when planning transit. A connected cycling network, for trips to downtown and in the suburbs create better and safer mobility options for suburbanites.

Communities are ecosystems, Ajeev Bhatia said, image, @CANURB

Ajeev Bhatia the Manager of Policy / Community Connections for the Centre for Connected Communities started his talk by stating that communities are ecosystems and transit planning processes must build off the community wisdom that’s already available to planners. Bhatia currently works on community engagement with local grassroots leaders. For example, Bhatia is working on a project to engage the community as part of planning for the future Eglinton East light rail transit line. As a result of this work, he’s encouraging planners to listen to local residents so they can better understand what’s happening in communities and what’s useful to the residents of those communities.

Eric Miller, Director of the University of Toronto‘s Transportation Research Institute spoke next. He focussed on Scarborough as typical of Toronto’s suburbs. He explained that even though politicians promote grand schemes to move Scarborough residents to and from downtown Toronto, the reality is that the city’s core is not where most of them want to travel. Miller displayed statistics that revealed that just 11 percent of them travel daily to and from downtown, ten percent commute to neighbouring York Region, and three to Durham. Eight percent travel to and from the rest of the city, and just two percent to the rest of the Greater Toronto area. The key take-away from these statistics: Nearly 70 percent of Scarborough residents commute only within Scarborough.

According to Eric Miller, the vast majority of Scarborough residents commute only within Scarborough, image, @CANURB

Of that 70 percent, 43 percent travel between north and south Scarborough. They don’t travel downtown or to North York. They don’t even travel for work to and from Scarborough Centre, which is where Toronto’s next subway will go.

Miller expressed concern about politicians emphasizing major transit projects over developing the nuts-and-bolts of a transportation network. “Building subways is not helpful”, he said, unless you also build basic transit services to carry people to and from that subway. He presented a slide with a layered triangle to illustrate how transit planners must build a successful network, step by step. On the base, buses (and streetcars) serve local communities, bringing them to high-order transit lines. Next, you can build bus-rapid or light-rail transit lines to link with the buses and connect passengers within a district. Subways are the next level of transit, linking BRTs and LRTs and passengers across the city. Finally, frequent commuter rail connects the subways and the entire region.

* * *

After the panellists’ presentations, Payne asked  the panel to respond to a series of questions.

“If you had to choose one move to improve mobility in areas not well served by high-level transit, what would it be?”

Lintern: I would make sure to link land-use planning with transit planning. The City’s Avenues project is a good illustration, where we’re encouraging higher densities along streets with transit services. Currently, many of these streets only have low-rise retail or residential.

Bhatia: Improve walkability. For example, the Mornelle area of Scarborough near U of T has a high number of seniors without cars who have to walk uphill to reach a distant grocery store. Adding frequent rest spots with benches and trees to local streets would help make those walks less onerous.

Gray: Focus on the first and last mile – develop strategies to improve walking, cycling and other ways that passengers travel to and from transit stops and stations. And, use pilot projects to test the plans and tweak them after the pilot period when necessary.

Miller: Continue doing what we’re doing, but improve frequency and reliability so that people can trust transit providers to be available to take them where they want to go.

The panel, left to right: Miller, Lintern, Bhatia, Gray, image @CANURB

“What would be your strategy to engage communities in developing tactics to improve mobility?”

Bhatia: Listen to the grassroots because officials will always learn things they didn’t know before. And, encourage “cross-silo” communications so that different sections of the government talk to each other!

Lintern: Professional planners and other experts need the humility to understand that they don’t have all the answers. The need to learn from communities.

Miller: Continue to build “last-mile” solutions to transportation issues. Running forty-foot buses on low-density residential streets is seldom successful. Consider “microtransit” – for example, smaller buses or demand-responsive services.

Gray: Support walking and cycling throughout the city to improve access for everyone, especially those without cars.

* * *

The event attracted a full house of planners, municipal officials and students at the University of Toronto’s Innis College. Among the audience were former Toronto chief planners, including Paul Bedford and Robert Millward, the City of Mississauga’s Commissioner of Planning and Building, Andrew Whittemore, and that city’s Commissioner of Transportation and Works, Geoff Wright.

What do you think of the issues that the Chief Planner and the panel discussed? Leave your comments in the form below this page.

* * *

UrbanToronto has a new way you can track projects through the planning process on a daily basis. Sign up for a free trial of our New Development Insider here.


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5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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