Toronto has dire need for federal help on housing, U of T professor says

University of Toronto policy and governance professor Janet Mason says she would like to see the new federal funding go towards a “down payment” on a more significant national housing strategy.

$11B expected to be set aside in budget, money Janet Mason says city badly needs

The federal budget is expected to set aside $11 billion to municipalities for affordable housing. (iStock)

Wednesday's federal budget is expected to set aside $11 billion to municipalities for affordable housing, which is sorely lacking in Toronto.

With many existing Toronto Community Housing properties in a state of disrepair and the price of housing skyrocketing in the city, the situation may get much worse before it gets better.

University of Toronto policy and governance professor Janet Mason says she would like to see the new federal funding go toward a "down payment" on a more significant national housing strategy.

Mason, who was also part of Mayor John Tory's task force on Toronto Community Housing, says if divided across the country over a decade, the $11 billion wouldn't even address the capital repair backlog at TCHC. Even if the money covered the repairs, she says it still wouldn't help the 100,000 who are on TCHC's waiting list.

"What we really need is something that commits to address the serious lack of affordable rental housing in this city," Mason told CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "The repair is obviously critical, but we haven't built any significant amount of housing or expanded people's access to support for their housing in any significant way for a long time."

On both fronts — repairs and new housing — the situation has proven difficult.

University of Toronto professor Janet Mason says she would like to see the new federal funding go towards a 'down payment' on a more significant national housing strategy. (CBC)

As a member of the task force, Mason says people who came out to meetings were facing desperate situations where their units were flooded and not fixed for days or where tenants had to patch up windows themselves.

"The state of repair is dire, that's why they're talking about shutting housing," Mason said.

The stigma some residents feel around living in community housing also underscores the need for repairs, she says, but giving community housing residents options, so they don't have to live in isolated communities that are seen as substandard by the rest of the city, is also important.

'Rent supplements' a possible solution

For those on the waiting list, they may be able to get support through supplements.

"The fastest way to help people on the waiting list is to give them what we call "rent supplements" — money to pay for the housing that they're in now," Mason added. "But as we know, the rental supply is very highly priced in this city, so finding a way to actually expand the affordable supply over the long run has got to be part of the solution."

While it's currently unknown how much Toronto would get for community housing in the new budget, Mason believes Toronto can make the case that it should get more money than other cities.

"Toronto has the highest, largest social housing portfolio of any city in the country for sure," she said. "But it also has the highest number of people in need because it's a very expensive city with a lot of people with low incomes."

Overall, Mason remains optimistic that the federal government will address the affordable housing crisis.

"People are looking into the federal government to show leadership," she said. "The government has positioned itself, rightfully so, as a progressive government and people have a right to expect that they will act in this area."