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Toronto "treading water" on affordable housing

Toronto "treading water" on affordable housing

 Photo Courtesy Flickr/Caelie Frampton

Photo Courtesy Flickr/Caelie Frampton

This was originally published on my Ryerson University journalism blog on April 14, 2016. 

By Justin Chandler

Toronto’s affordable housing system should improve under the new federal and provincial budgets, but more needs to be done to fulfill the city’s housing needs, insiders say.

Mitchell Kosny, affordable housing expert and associate director of Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said Canada is “treading water” on affordable housing because existing problems are not being fixed.

The Trudeau and Wynne governments’ 2016 budgets contain funding for building and repairing affordable housing and measures to promote the construction of new affordable housing units, but that’s not enough, said Kosny.

In Toronto, there are 95,000 households on the waitlist for subsidized housing. Wait times for Toronto’s 70,000 rent-geared-to-income units (units in which rent is a set percentage of the tenant's annual income) are about four years on average.

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), Toronto’s largest subsidized housing provider, owns two-thirds of Toronto’s social housing units. The rest are held by 240 other providers.  The amount of new funding proposed by the federal and provincial governments (about $1.5 billion and $223 million respectively) is not even enough to cover the $1.73 billion the TCHC needs to repair existing units, let alone build new ones.

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“There’s never enough money, to put it bluntly,” said Gil Hardy, a City of Toronto spokesperson for affordable housing.

The TCHC is funded by the City, the provincial government and the federal government, which are each supposed to contribute a one-third share of its funding.

TCHC spokesperson Lisa Murray said the provider is well-poised to take advantage of new government funding, which she calls a “very good start” to the process of repairing TCHC’s badly worn-out units. She said the housing provider knows the repairs it needs to make and how much they will cost, so should easily be able to apply for new funding from the provincial and federal governments.

It is important for TCHC to repair its existing units as well as build new ones, Murray said. She said it costs about $50,000 to repair a unit and $200,000 to build a new one and that if old units are not repaired, they will become unusable and force existing tenants into new units.

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Murray said the TCHC can build some new units using the “Revitalization” program, in which  developers buy land from the TCHC then build a mix of standard and affordable units. Murray said “everybody wins” in these agreements because developers profit and affordable housing gets created. Amenities such as through-streets and community centres are also built, improving the communities where people on assisted housing live.

The new budgets show higher levels of government are willing to help municipalities build housing units, which is important because cooperation between all three levels is needed to meet cities’ housing needs, Kosny said. He said the new budgets are good “relative to nothing,” which is what he thinks the Harper government contributed to affordable housing in Canada.

Ontario Ministry of Affordable Housing spokesperson Praveen Senthinathan said in an email that the province has given over $1.1 billion in affordable housing funding to Toronto since 2003.

“There is a need to invest more in housing and infrastructure. The province is working with the federal government to address Ontario’s housing needs,” Senthinathan said.

Murray said the TCHC can build some new units using the “Revitalization” program, in which  developers buy land from the TCHC then build a mix of standard and affordable units. Murray said “everybody wins” in these agreements because developers profit and affordable housing gets created. Amenities such as through-streets and community centres are also built, improving the communities where people on assisted housing live.

The new budgets show higher levels of government are willing to help municipalities build housing units, which is important because cooperation between all three levels is needed to meet cities’ housing needs, Kosny said. He said the new budgets are good “relative to nothing,” which is what he thinks the Harper government contributed to affordable housing in Canada.

Ontario Ministry of Affordable Housing spokesperson Praveen Senthinathan said in an email that the province has given over $1.1 billion in affordable housing funding to Toronto since 2003.

“There is a need to invest more in housing and infrastructure. The province is working with the federal government to address Ontario’s housing needs,” Senthinathan said.

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