Ontario budget 2016: Where's the money for affordable housing?

This year's Ontario budget promised to make post secondary tuition free for low income students and lower the cost of prescription drugs for more financially strapped seniors, but there was very little in the budget to address the lack of affordable housing.

The budget does comparatively little to fight homelessness in the province

A persistent leak has led to crumbling walls in this Toronto Housing Community unit near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue. It's just one of thousands of aging units TCH must repair. (CBC News)

This year's Ontario budget promises to make post-secondary tuition free for low-income students and lower the cost of prescription drugs for more financially strapped seniors, but there was very little in the budget to address the lack of affordable housing.

In an $134 billion budget, the Liberal government said it will to invest $60 million in new money this year "to provide housing subsidies" and help to build some housing units. 

In an interview with the CBC's Helen Mann, Premier Kathleen Wynne said she would make reducing chronic homelessness in the province a priority if she had the money.

"I'd like to be able to move more quickly to build the housing, the affordable housing we need. My hope is the federal government will be able to support us in that. There's a backlog of need there and if I could move more quickly on that I would."

State of disrepair

Toronto Community Housing spokesperson Lisa Murray says money for new affordable housing is needed but "we have to preserve what we've got."

She said 350 subsidized housing units have been boarded up because the corporation doesn't have the money to replace what needs fixing. Another 7,500 units are under threat to close by 2023 if they aren't repaired, "and another 4000 are in critical condition," says Murray. 
Bricks fell from the facade of this Toronto Community Housing building located on Eglinton Avenue East in April of 2015. (CBC)

TCH is Canada's largest residential landlord with about 110,000 people living in its 2,100 buildings across the city.

Murray says the corporation manages approximately 58,500 units and 90 percent of its renters are subsidized, so 30 percent of a tenant's gross income would go to rent with the city making up the difference.

Much of the TCH housing stock is at least 50 years old and needs extensive repair.

Where's the money?

In 2013, Toronto city council passed a motion supporting the corporation's plan to upgrade and renovate its buildings to the tune of $2.6 billion. The hope was a third of the money would come from the city, a third from Queen's Park, with the final third coming from Ottawa. 

But the province and the federal government have not ponied up. Murray says TCH will run out of the city's money to fix roofs, furnaces and replace electrical wiring by the end of this year. 
This is just one of more than 2,000 buildings owned by Toronto Community Housing, the second biggest residential landlord in North America. Some of its buildings have been boarded up because they're beyond fixing. (Google Street View)

"To repair an existing unit, in order to fully fix all the components of a building, it's roughly half the price than it would cost to build a new unit," says Murray. "Building affordable housing is absolutely critical, but it's not just that, we must repair the homes we've got, that families are living in now or they may have to be displaced."

The units are there. They just aren't affordable.- Alvin Curling, former Ontario Minister of Housing

Former Liberal Minister of Housing Alvin Curling says, "The buildings are there; the units are there. They just aren't affordable."

He suggests the city should allow low income families to rent units in privately owned buildings and subsidize the cost of living there.

"It would take away the (city's) responsibility of maintaining the building."

Curling helped start an initiative called "Stand Up for Public Housing" during the last federal election. The goal was to raise awareness with all party candidates about the lack of capital funding for Toronto's public housing.

He says the next step is persuade Ottawa and Queen's Park to dig into their pockets. The federal Liberals campaigned on a promise to invest $20 billion in affordable housing and seniors facilities. They table their first budget March 22.  

Curling says the province should make repairs to social housing repairs eligible for monies in its infrastructure fund.

"Housing is an infrastructure as much as bridges."

Michelle Cheung


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