The wait in Ontario for social housing can run to 10 years
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
August 26, 2012.
Activists call it a “quiet crisis,” with good reason. For the fifth year in a row more Ontario households joined the waiting list for social housing than got off it. Queues across the province have swollen by a shocking 26 per cent since 2007 with some people waiting a decade for affordable housing.
For all too many, that amounts to a 10-year sentence of being trapped in poverty as rents they can barely afford gobble up their money, leaving precious little on which to live. In a country as rich as Canada, this is a disgrace.
The solution is straightforward enough: provide more housing geared to their income. But that hasn’t been a political priority and budgeting focus. Every level of government has let down the needy.
The latest grim numbers in a new report from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association show that more than 156,300 households were stuck on waiting lists for social housing at the end of 2011. Almost 70,000 struggling households were in Toronto. That’s up 3,000 from the year before.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper often boasts about Canada’s success in weathering the recession. Economists assure us a recovery is underway. But far too many hard-pressed Canadians still can’t afford decent housing. For them, no relief lies ahead.
Moreover for the first time since the association has collected these statistics, single people and childless couples under age 65 form the largest number of households on the waiting list, some 60,000 province-wide. Happily, there was a modest 1.5 per cent drop in the number of families on the list. Credit for that may be due to some of Ontario’s welcome efforts to reduce child poverty. Even so, 56,000 households with children are still in need. And some 40,000 seniors are waiting as well.
Bottom line? “New affordable housing is not being built in sufficient quantity to meet the growing demand,” write the authors of the report, released this past week. “Unfortunately, in today’s austerity climate, affordable housing does not receive the attention or dollars required.”
Toronto and other cities have a key role in planning and delivering affordable housing but they can’t do it alone. Municipal leaders, academics, housing advocates and anti-poverty activists have long urged Ottawa to come up with a coherent national housing strategy backed by federal funds to tackle the problem. Those pleas have met with a shrug of indifference from the Conservative government. But there should be no let-up in the campaign to reverse this benighted stand.
Meanwhile, the growing plight of singles and childless couples suggests that Queen’s Park needs to step in where Ottawa will not, by expanding support to other groups beyond families that need housing.
Policy-makers should also renew and expand programs that help people move out of social housing by buying homes. Not everyone in low-income housing can do this. But some can. Having government supply assistance for this transition can be more cost-effective than providing ongoing support. It also frees up social housing for others.
There are ways forward. But it requires political will to make the needed investments. Sadly, like social housing that will is in short supply.
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