Housing strategy is long overdue

TheStar.com – Opinion/editorial – Housing strategy is long overdue 

Published On Mon Nov 23 2009

Ontario’s Housing Minister Jim Watson says his much-anticipated affordable housing plan should be finished sometime late next spring. His staff stress that they are “taking the time to get it right.”

This would be understandable, perhaps, if the housing problem had just been discovered. But given that the Liberals knew about Ontario’s affordable housing crisis long before they were first elected in 2003, Watson’s approach seems more like a delaying tactic.

For the 130,000 families waiting on a list for the chance to live in a home where they can afford to pay the rent without skipping trips to the grocery store, next spring is too far away.

Our province is so short of affordable housing that Toronto families in need wait an average of six years. That means children could grow up and graduate from high school before help arrives. Next door in Peel region the wait is even longer: 21 years.

In this context, the government has been unconscionably slow to keep its promises to tackle Ontario’s affordable housing crisis.

In the 2003 election, the Liberals promised 20,000 new affordable units. To date, less than half of that amount has been built and occupied. In the 2007 election, they promised an affordable housing “strategy.” Yet it wasn’t until this past summer that the government began consultation meetings to develop that strategy.

Despite not having a strategy, the government has continued to put money into housing and deserves credit for that. It recently committed $622 million over two years to match federal stimulus funding, primarily to repair existing social housing.

But it does not bode well for those on the waiting list that the government has yet to meet its commitments from two elections ago and is dragging its feet on a housing strategy. Troubling, too, is that Queen’s Park seems to be waiting for Ottawa to come to the table with new money before committing to spend more itself.

Watson says he is hoping that a meeting of provincial housing ministers in Ottawa next month will result in a 10-year federal funding commitment and a national housing strategy.

Certainly Ottawa should make a long-term commitment to finance affordable housing, as it used to. But as Watson himself acknowledges, housing isn’t exactly a priority for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Banking on their support is probably unwise. And if Ottawa fails to produce, that does not absolve Ontario from meeting its obligations to those living in appalling conditions or in unaffordable units.

Last week, a broad coalition called on the province to produce an ambitious and well-funded housing plan. Said Harvey Cooper of the Co-operative Housing Federation: “Resolving Ontario’s housing crisis isn’t just a matter of bricks and mortar.” He’s right.

Without secure, affordable housing, many of the government’s other worthy plans, including reducing poverty, will be undermined.
How can children do well in school if their families keep getting evicted for failing to pay their rent? How can adults train for better employment if they are already working at two minimum-wage jobs just to keep a roof over their head?

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park has clearly demonstrated an understanding of the importance of lifting Ontarians out of poverty. It is time it put thought into action on the affordable housing front.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/729287–housing-strategy-is-long-overdue >

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