Ford government promises $1B to fix Ontario's affordable housing crisis

Premier Doug Ford's government has earmarked more than $1 billion to repair Ontario's languishing affordable housing and to end homelessness.

Community Housing Renewal Strategy is meant to reduce wait lists, crack down on criminal activity

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, right, announced $1 billion in financial relief on Wednesday to help repair Ontario's community housing stock. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Premier Doug Ford's government has earmarked more than $1 billion to repair Ontario's languishing affordable housing and to end homelessness across the province.

The funding boost is part of Ontario's Community Housing Renewal Strategy, and promises to remove the red tape of a system the province deems "fragmented and inefficient," in order to streamline repairs. The money will start being doled out this year, but exactly how much each municipality will receive is still unclear. 

"Our government believes Ontario families shouldn't have to live in buildings with crumbling walls, leaking roofs and broken elevators," Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark said in a news release Wednesday.

"We will work with municipalities and non-profits to address issues like safety, overcrowding and long wait lists."

Clark was joined by Health Minister and Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott as he revealed the Progressive Conservatives' new plan in Newmarket, Ont., this morning.

One of the Ford government's main goals is to reduce the long waiting lists for social housing. Under the new framework, prospective tenants will be required to "prioritize their first choice and accept the first unit they are offered," according to a news release.

Further, social housing providers, such as Toronto Community Housing (TCH), will also be empowered to reject tenants who have been previously evicted for criminal activity.

New policy 'sends a strong message to criminals': Tory

Mayor John Tory applauded the province's move, since the city is suffering from a deep affordable housing crisis.

"I know our two governments have a shared determination to ensure the safety of all our residents, especially seniors and families who live in TCH," Tory said in a statement on Wednesday.

He said city officials have made a "long-standing request" of the province to change laws to help social housing providers ban repeat criminals from reapplying.

"After years of advocacy to previous governments, I want to thank Minister Clark for finally listening to the City of Toronto's request and taking action," he said.

The Toronto Police Services Board approved TCH's request to increase its special constables from 160 to 300, though it says many won't be hired soon. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

In April 2017, Tory tabled a motion at city hall calling on the province to change the Housing Services Act to allow TCH to block tenants it has kicked out. At the time, city council voted unanimously to support the mayor's motions.

However, the province's previous Liberal government never budged to support the plan. At the time, former housing minister Chris Ballard said he was worried a ban could end up increasing homelessness.

Tory renewed efforts to effect change after Ford's spring election victory. In an open letter to Clark, he expressed his "disappointment" that the province had not acted on the earlier request. 

"We have a duty as governments to do everything possible to stop the misconduct of a small group of people who are disrupting the lives of law-abiding Toronto Community Housing residents," Tory said Wednesday.

"This change by the province sends a strong message to criminals that they are not welcome in TCH, and we will not tolerate them threatening the peace and well-being of our communities," he added.

Last year, Canada's largest affordable housing provider beefed up security due to rising violence on its properties. The Toronto Police Services Board approved TCH's request to increase special constables from 160 to 300, though it says many won't be hired soon.

PCs' funding follows pledge by feds

The province's announcement almost matches the federal Liberal government's funding pledge earlier this month to combat a growing repair backlog Toronto faces in the years ahead, with TCH repairs making up a substantial portion.

Ottawa has announced $1.3 billion, to be distributed over 10 years. The public housing agency is currently facing a $1.6-billion repair backlog that's expected to balloon to around $3 billion in the next decade.

The federal funding will be used to renovate some 58,000 TCH units, starting as early as this spring. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Mayor John Tory announced $1.3 billion earlier this month to help fix Toronto's decade-long problem of crumbling community housing. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Several factors, including but not limited to an expensive real estate market and record-low vacancy rates, have made it increasingly difficult for many Torontonians to find housing they can afford. Around 110,000 tenants currently live in TCH units. 

Meanwhile, other residents are waiting five to seven years for supportive housing, according to findings from the Canadian Centre of Economic Analysis and the Canadian Urban Institute's Toronto Housing Market Analysis report. In the meantime, they remain in homeless shelters, hospitals, rooming houses or other forms of housing that don't meet their needs, the research states. 

The city has also been slow to build new affordable housing in recent years, and has been criticized for how it advertises the units it does finish. TCH has already budgeted $313 million for repairs this year to improve living conditions.

This new provincial support for community housing, along with the federal cash, is critical for Toronto as city officials are gearing up to develop a broader 10-year housing strategy this fall. 

"Any additional investment in Toronto Community Housing by the provincial government is very welcome," said Tory. "We await details of this commitment so as to determine if this has positive implications for Toronto Community Housing."

With files from CBC's Lauren Pelley