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Will a pay hike of more than $4 million for city planners help solve Toronto’s housing crisis?

Toronto intends to boost the salaries of city planners on its payroll in an effort to address a long-standing retention problem in the department that’s been blamed for worsening the housing crisis.

A city report going to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee next Tuesday recommends increasing the salaries and benefits of employees in the planning division in order to better align with other municipalities and help “attract and retain highly-skilled staff.”

The size of the pay hike, which was negotiated with city workers union CUPE Local 79, is confidential. But the report says that if approved by council the raises will cost Toronto almost $4 million next year, and an additional $620,000 in 2024.

Documents published by the city indicate current salaries in the department range from about $70,000 for an assistant planner to $140,000 for a director, including benefits.

In a statement, CUPE Local 79 president Casey Barnett said the recommended raise follows “a critical inability to attract and retain staff” at the city that’s not limited to the planning department.

“The city of Toronto is experiencing staff shortages in many divisions as a result of notable differences between what other municipalities and the private sector pay, and what the city of Toronto offers,” said Barnett, adding that “one per cent increases are not enough to keep up with inflation and market pressures.”

The city has known for years that it is having trouble attracting and keeping planners. With development booming across the GTA the workers are in high demand in municipalities outside of Toronto as well as in the private sector, both of which have offered more attractive compensation than Ontario’s largest city.

Additional factors like the high cost of living in Toronto, COVID-19 changes to employment trends, and the requirements for city planners to attend public consultations that are potentially contentious have also made working for the city less attractive, according to previous staff reports.

A city report from earlier this year said the planning department had 477 approved full-time positions, but a vacancy rate of almost 13 per cent.

Development industry leaders have said Toronto’s inability to to keep its planning division staffed has delayed housing construction and contributed to soaring prices.

A September report by the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) found Toronto development approval timelines ranked 15th out of 16 GTA municipalities, and the city took an average of 32 months to approve an application.

Paying planners more isn’t the only strategy the city is deploying in the hopes of streamlining the development process. A separate report on next week’s executive agenda recommends hiring 150 more full-time staff, including 74 in the planning department, as the city braces for the impact of Bill 109. Starting next year the provincial legislation will force Ontario municipalities to refund developer fees if cities don’t approve applications within prescribed timelines.

In a statement, Justin Sherwood, BILD’s senior vice president for communications and stakeholder relations, said the association is supportive of Toronto’s efforts to beef up its planning department.

“Continuity and capacity are crucial to the timely processing of planning and development applications,” he said.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr


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