At long last, Toronto is prepared to leverage its biggest asset — city-owned land — to build more of the rental housing this city desperately needs.

A plan to develop 11 parcels of surplus land to produce thousands of new rental apartments, with some of them at more affordable rents, is an important change in city policy that should be welcomed and expanded on over time. It’s a big improvement over just selling the land to the highest bidder, all but ensuring that nothing but condominiums get built.

The city’s “housing now” report outlines zoning the sites for more than 10,000 units of housing and requiring that at least two-thirds of them be purpose-built rentals. And at least half of those rentals (about 3,700) must meet a measure of affordability that, overall, would drop monthly rents by some $275.

On its own, this certainly won’t fix the city’s affordable housing crisis. Homeless shelters are bursting at the seams, the wait-list for social housing runs tens of thousands deep, and there are still more renters struggling to keep up with rents that rise faster than incomes.

But it does start to tackle part of the problem by increasing the supply of rental housing. And, perhaps just as importantly, it shows the city finally realizes that if it wants different outcomes, it must conduct business differently.

Status quo development in Toronto isn’t working for far too many people. This plan, which is to go to the city’s executive committee on Wednesday, provides one way to change that. Councillors should support it.

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