City council proposal would give homeowners up to $7,500 for flood damage

Toronto city council is poised to approve a grant program — price tag unknown — available only to homeowners in one neighbourhood particularly hard-hit by basement flooding.

The unusually targeted handouts of up to $7,500 each — available only to future flooding victims in Rockcliffe, near Jane Street and Eglinton Avenue West — are opposed by city staff but could be approved by council even as the city faces unprecedented financial pressures.

Under pressure from a pandemic-related budget shortfall of about $857 million, Toronto is slowing projects for roadwork, transit and Toronto Islands flood protection while begging provincial and federal officials for more bailouts.

But the “no-fault grant for basement flooding damages” proposal, long pushed by Coun. Frances Nunziata for some of her Ward 5 York—South Weston residents, appears set to pass this week at council’s final sitting before the October civic election, with support from Mayor John Tory.

Tory understands that Nunziata has “very strong feelings” about the proposal and its benefits for her flood-prone residents, Tory spokesperson Don Peat said, adding the mayor will listen to debate on the item but “likely will support the local councillor on this issue.”

Nunziata, who is seeking re-election against at least two challengers, did not respond to Star requests for comment.

The floodplain in Rockcliffe is one of 10 identified across Toronto, but residents there have suffered the most repeat basement deluges when major rainstorms overwhelm the city’s sewer system.

After being asked to look at a grant program, city staff last fall urged councillors to reject the idea. Compensating homeowners for damaged furniture and other basement items would do nothing to reduce flooding.

Also, there is the “equity” problem of making cash available to roughly 500 eligible homeowners in one neighbourhood, after an unusually severe storm, while refusing it to those in Toronto’s nine other floodplains.

Council rejected the city staff rejection, asking for grant options. Last week a committee got scenarios, including making all floodplain residents eligible; capping grants at $3,500 rather than $7,500; and making grants one-time only per homeowner.

Nunziata’s pick — $7,500 grants only for Rockcliffe flood-zone residents, with no cap on the number of times they can claim — was endorsed 5-1 by members of the general government and licensing committee.

The city staff report estimates a total cost to taxpayers of $6 million until floodproofing of the area is complete, but it warns of uncertainty over the “conservative” estimate given climate-change impacts. Recommended eligibility criteria include grants covering only losses not covered by insurance and verified by a city-dispatched assessor.

The lone opposing committee vote was cast by Coun. Stephen Holyday (Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre). On Monday, Holyday told the Star he is sympathetic to Rockcliffe flood victims, especially those who can no longer get insurance, but he doesn’t understand aiming cash at only one enclave.

“How, as councillor, could I vote to do this for the people of Rockcliffe and not extend it to my residents in potentially the same circumstance?” he said.

“I don’t get it.”

Nunziata told him at committee the grants were 20 years in the making, delayed by environmental assessments of flood-control measures.

Other items going to city council in the meeting starting Tuesday include:

  • A proposal from Toronto’s top housing official that the city ask the Ontario government to clamp down on rent-raising landlords by tying rent-control rules to residential units, rather than the tenants who inhabit them.

  • A recommendation to change the name of Lower Coxwell Avenue to Indigenous-honouring Emdaabiimok (Em-DAH-bee-muck) Avenue, derived from the literal translation for “where the road goes to the water.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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