Ontario lagging on social housing

TheStar.com – comment/editorial- Ontario lagging on social housing
February 05, 2008

When the provincial housing ministers meet in Vancouver tomorrow, Ontario will have little to boast about. The biggest and richest province in Canada is doing the least to fund affordable housing, according to a national report card released yesterday.

In fact, the report by Michael Shapcott of Toronto’s Wellesley Institute found that Ontario has a $1 billion spending gap between what it has promised to spend on affordable housing since 2001 and what it has delivered. That year, it signed a new federal-provincial pact to boost funding by $358 million. Instead, it has cut spending by $732 million in the past six years, leaving Ontario as the only province that hasn’t at least made some modest gains in housing spending.

“They make commitments but when it comes time to add up what’s actually done, you will find a lot of excuses and a lot of stalling,” Shapcott said in an interview. “We have this history of federal-provincial deals signed but when you look at the dollars, you find they have not done what they intended to do.”

That is largely because in 2001, under the previous Conservative government of Mike Harris, Ontario became the only province in Canada to download responsibility for housing onto municipalities.

While Premier Dalton McGuinty has promised to develop an affordable housing strategy, so far his government has offered little but excuses for inaction. The latest is that any decision about uploading services, including housing, must wait until after a committee studying the matter issues its report, now not expected until spring.

Meanwhile, in Ontario 600,000 renter households, including 200,000 in Toronto, are spending more than 30 per cent of their pre-tax income on rent, according to the Shapcott report. As a result, 67,000 tenant households in the province faced eviction last year, food bank use is up and illegal flophouses are emerging.

The last time the federal and provincial housing ministers met in 2005, they issued principles for a Canadian affordable housing framework and agreed to work quickly on a strategy with goals, timetables and long-term funding. But in the 30 months since, little has happened, and federal Housing Minister Monte Solberg won’t even commit to attending tomorrow’s meeting. Meanwhile, all current federal housing programs are set to expire by March 2009.

But Ontario can no longer wait for the federal government to act. Thousands of Ontarians are in desperate need of adequate housing and ought not to have to suffer while the provincial government makes yet another round of excuses for inaction.

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