Housing or just castles in the air?
Published On Fri Jul 02 2010. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
For most of us, Canada is good country to call home.
But for approximately 300,000 people, it is a country where they have no home.
Some live in homeless shelters. Some spend their nights in parks, ravines, back alleys or on the streets. Some couch surf until their friends’ and relatives’ patience runs out.
Governments have known about this problem for two decades. They’ve conducted studies, made promises, set targets — and missed most of them.
Seven years ago, when Dalton McGuinty became premier of Ontario, he vowed to turn things around in his province. He specifically promised 20,000 new housing units for needy families in his first term of office.
Four years later, when his mandate ended, his government had built just 3,000 units.
In his second term, McGuinty took a different tack. He promised a long-term affordable housing strategy that would improve Ontarians’ access to adequate, suitable and affordable housing and create “a solid foundation on which to secure employment, raise families and build communities.”
In order to draft the plan, Jim Watson, who was then housing minister, embarked on a province-wide listening tour. He held 13 public meetings. More than 1,000 Ontarians came out, believing the government cared about their needs and suggestions.
But Watson quit provincial politics in January in hopes of becoming Ottawa’s next mayor. He never delivered the long-promised housing strategy.
His successor, Jim Bradley, assured Ontarians he would finish the job. The blueprint would be out by late spring.
Two weeks ago, however, his ministry postponed the release date, saying the plan needed more work.
“This government is committed to affordable housing,” insisted the minister’s secretary Joe Kim. “The ministry is going to be working full tilt through the summer to get this very important plan correct.”
Housing advocates were frustrated, but not shocked. How could they be after seven years of delays, shortfalls and excuses?
Most tempered their public comments.
“We’ve come this far and for the sake of a couple of months, I’m willing to wait if it will get us a better product,” said Sharad Kerur, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Corporation, whose members provide subsidized housing to more than 200,000 families.
“This pause means another summer of hardship for hundreds of thousands of Ontarians facing inadequate and unaffordable housing,” said Yukata Dirks, co-chair of the Housing Network of Ontario, a coalition of community groups, anti-poverty activists, housing advocates and low-income tenants.
Privately, however, these groups fear the housing strategy — when and if it comes — will offer no new housing and no new money, just regulatory changes.
They worry the government will renege on its housing pledge, just as it broke its election commitment to provide dental care for low-income adults last month.
They wonder if McGuinty’s 19-month-old poverty reduction strategy has become an empty shell. The government’s social assistance review still hasn’t begun. Welfare rates are still thousands of dollars a year below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off. This spring the premier announced a crackdown on social recipients who “abuse” the province’s special diet allowance.
And now the housing minister has missed his own deadline, making it extremely unlikely that the 142,000 Ontarians on the waiting list for affordable housing will get any relief before the 2011 election.
Canada is one of the world’s most affluent countries; rich enough to spend more than $1 billion hosting last weekend’s G8 and G20 summits for world leaders.
Ontario is one Canada’s wealthiest provinces; rich enough to pour an additional $310 million into post-secondary education in this year’s budget. Yet thousands of residents of this envied province in a privileged country have no place to call home.
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