Ontario budget doesn't have much on offer for Toronto's housing crisis

Premier Doug Ford’s first provincial budget offers Toronto a few things. But it doesn’t offer any confirmation of new provincial support for housing for a city suffering from a deep affordable housing crisis.

Ontario budget leaves Toronto hanging on housing — and creates more budget uncertainty at city hall

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli speaks to reporters about his first provincial budget on Thursday afternoon in Toronto. (Pierre-Olivier Bernatchez/CBC)

Premier Doug Ford's first provincial budget offers Toronto a few things: the promise of an ambitious transit map, the possibility of downing a few beers in city parks without worrying about the cops showing up, a chance to see some acrobats at Ontario Place.

But it doesn't offer any confirmation of new provincial support for housing for a city suffering from a deep affordable housing crisis.

Following an announcement last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that pledged $1.3 billion in federal funding and loans over 10 years to repair Toronto Community Housing (TCH) units, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government didn't use their budget announcement Thursday as an opportunity to jump in with housing funds of their own.

Instead, the budget doesn't mention TCH, leaving the province's share of funding to address a repair backlog projected to grow to more than $3 billion over the next decade in limbo.

The PC budget also reverses a planned increase to the municipal share of the provincial gas tax, a move that will create even more fiscal uncertainty for Toronto — a city already dealing with a whole lot of fiscal uncertainty.

While city moves to build affordable rental housing, province focuses on boosting overall housing supply

The housing section of the province's budget document mostly focuses on boosting the housing supply. Laying out a Housing Supply Access plan, the government promises reforms to streamline approvals, reduce development costs and make it easier to build rental housing.

Some of those measures may prove beneficial to Toronto, but Mayor John Tory and council's recent work on the housing file has been focused on using public lands to build new rental apartment projects with units offered below market rates.

The provincial budget is silent on whether the Ford government intends to support those efforts, either through direct funding or the handover of surplus provincial lands for use as housing sites.

But the door isn't closed. The province has left open the possibility for future commitments to both TCH repairs and the construction of new affordable rental developments through their Community Housing Renewal Strategy. The city will be looking for more information as official prepare to announce a new 10-year Toronto housing strategy this fall.

Reversal of gas tax transfer leaves TTC short repair dollars

The Ontario PCs used their budget as an opportunity to announce they would not be going forward with a plan announced by the previous Ontario Liberal government to double the share of the provincial gas tax sent to municipalities, from two cents per litre to four cents.

The city estimated the increase would bring in $328 million for Toronto once fully phased in. They planned to use the extra money to help cover its massive $33.5 billion TTC repair bill

Mayor John Tory and city council were counting on $328 million from an increase in Ontario gas tax revenue to help pay for the TTC's repair backlog. But the PC government announced in Thursday's budget that municipalities won't be getting the increased share they were expecting. (John Rieti/CBC)

For Tory, news of the reversal packs an extra punch because the increased transfer was his consolation prize after former Premier Kathleen Wynne's government rejected his plan to introduce road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

Tory's initial push for road tolls was rooted in his belief that the city does not have enough revenues to adequately fund transit and housing. With both tolls and new gas tax revenues off the table, he's now back where he started.

Feds, province set different visions, priorities — with Toronto caught in the middle

Thursday's budget announcement also further confirms that Toronto now faces a new era of federal and provincial priorities that are not entirely aligned.

The provincial government appears ready to go it alone on advancing some Toronto transit projects. The federal government, meanwhile, is stepping in to partner with the city on repairing and building affordable housing, with a provincial commitment missing from the budget.

The split leaves Toronto caught in the middle, facing a housing crisis, billions in transit needs and escalating budget challenges — and still looking for all the help it can get.