What is Tower Renewal?
Tower Renewal is a strategy that promotes, supports and directs enhancement and reinvestment in Canada’s affordable apartment tower stock.
During the boom years of the 1960s and 70s, Canada built a significant volume of modern apartment towers in response to rapid urbanization. Predominantly privately developed, but supported by public planning policy and incentives, these towers shape the urban and suburban landscape cross county – with at least 750,000 Canadian households calling them home.
Half a century into their service life, the need to retrofit and revitalize postwar towers has never been more critical. Compounding the growing inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, much of Canada’s purpose-built rental housing is at risk and in need of renewal. However, retrofitting costs – as well as financing retrofits while maintaining housing affordability – continue to be a primary barrier.
Aging tower blocks are the backbone of the purpose-built rental sector in Canada, and today are home to hundreds of thousands of households of modest and low incomes. As these buildings age, our affordable stock is threatened by two key factors: deterioration through neglect; and loss of affordability through investments targeted to raise rents.
The issue is not new. Over 10 years ago, The Tower Renewal Partnership (TRP) was formed to create a framework for tower neighbourhood reinvestment. As the originators of the made-in-Toronto concept and term “Tower Renewal”, they saw the value in tower neighbourhoods and fought for their preservation when many suggested outright demolition. Working as thought leaders and champions of this work, the term Tower Renewal is now ubiquitous and represents a strategy that promotes, supports and directs enhancement and reinvestment in affordable apartment tower stocks across Canada. The Tower Renewal approach works in tandem to achieve quality of life improvements and realize public policy objectives related to climate change, affordable housing, poverty reduction and economic development.
There is considerable international precedent to support a Tower Renewal-type approach. Over the past 30 years, many European countries, including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the Nordics have implemented national retrofit programs targeting postwar apartment tower housing with positive results. Most importantly, these programs have introduced government-driven financial tools and programs to enable wide scale retrofits, resulting in healthier citizens and a significant upward impact on economies.
The goals of Tower Renewal focus on GHG reduction, creating complete communities, directing growth, securing affordability, improving housing quality and supporting local community and culture:
- Rehabilitate our aging rental housing supply to meet modern standards of comfort, health and energy performance – while maintaining affordability
- Expand opportunities for community-led economic diversification, social infrastructure and cultural production to enable post-war tower neighbourhoods to become more healthy and complete communities
- Leverage the legacy of postwar tower urbanism toward regional growth, sustainability and transit connectivity, building more resilient and thriving urban regions