Mayors form alliance to push for housing cash

Posted on in Governance Debates

TheStar.com – News/City Hall – Friday’s housing summit will put pressure on senior governments to commit serious, stable money to build and fix affordable housing.
Sept. 25, 2016.   By JENNIFER PAGLIAROCity Hall reporter

Amid a continuing crisis in affordable housing — crumbling public buildings and long waitlists — Mayor John Tory says it’s long past time for the federal and provincial governments to “step up” and invest in housing.

The mayor of Canada’s largest city will announce Monday that he’s convening a summit on housing this Friday, bringing municipal leaders — including the mayors of Vancouver and Edmonton — to the same table.

The group has outlined key demands to the higher orders of government, details of which have been shared with the Star. They include earmarking pending infrastructure investments specifically to housing.

“There has been nobody there to be our partner, really, in any effective way . . . They’ll cite numbers and things they’ve done, but I think it represents a declining participation,” Tory said in a sit-down interview with the Star last week.

“I’m disappointed that the new government in Ottawa, now being one year in, and the provincial government, being several years in . . . that they haven’t stepped forward with more.”

At the summit, the big-city mayors will be requesting that most of the available $20 billion in federal money for “social” infrastructure be dedicated to public and affordable housing.

Toronto has received just $115 million for social housing so far in the first phase of the federal social infrastructure spending — part of $640 million Ottawa has allocated to Ontario, of some $2.3 billion to be doled out nationwide.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has not yet committed to a substantial investment, beyond the $42.9 million announced in April for energy retrofits for social-housing towers.

But Toronto is facing a $2.6-billion backlog in social housing repairs for the portfolio held by its largest housing provider, Toronto Community Housing. That backlog has led to the closure of hundreds of units in the past five years and put thousands more at risk of being shuttered.

By the end of the year, TCH will have spent $622 million on housing repairs, of the city’s own $864-million investment. But neither of the other levels of government has come forward to match that money with the customary one-third share. Without it, repairs will stall and more units will have to be closed, TCH and city officials have warned.

A spokesperson for federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in an emailed statement that “affordable housing will be a key component of the second phase of infrastructure investment,” which is expected to be announced before the end of the year.

A spokesperson for Ontario Housing Minister Chris Ballard said the province is working with the city to “increase the supply of affordable housing, make the social housing system easier to navigate and help achieve our goal to end chronic homelessness.” The spokesperson also also cited other one-time programs, including a $3.9-million investment in portable housing benefits for survivors of domestic violence.

“We look forward to sharing information about further support to Toronto,” at the summit, Ballard said in a statement. “We will continue to work with all levels of government to achieve our vision that everyone in Ontario has affordable home to provide the foundation to secure employment, raise a family, and build strong communities.”

Tory said the pending investments are welcome, but stressed they must be based on need.

“In the case of the province, they’ve done what I’ll call the tiniest little kernel,” he said. “Some programs … aren’t even actually focused right on social housing, but they’re this energy-retrofit stuff, which will be a little helpful,” Tory said. “But if you look at the numbers, it’s minuscule compared to what needs to happen.”

The city’s housing advocate and chair of the affordable housing committee, Councillor Ana Bailao, said the federal government must also be clear about expiring operating agreements and about providing ongoing, stable funding for responsibilities that have been downloaded to the city and its taxpayers. That divestment will soon total $150 million annually in the city’s budget.

“You’re going to have to explain to Canadians why it’s going to get to a certain point. Housing is not being built, units are starting to close . . . they have to respond to that,” Bailao said. “We need to do something that is actually going to translate into units and better housing for people.”

Social housing is just one part of the equation.

The summit and participating municipalities will also be asking both the province and federal government to contribute surplus land and provide incentives for builders to create new affordable housing.

Cities face an ongoing shortage. In Toronto, more than 170,000 people are on the waitlist for subsidized housing — a number that continues to rise.

“The reality is, we can’t do it on our own,” Bailao said.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs Canada’s Big City Mayors Caucus and who will be at the summit in Toronto this week, said the mayors agree the housing field is absolutely in a crisis that is only getting worse.

“Investments in housing proactively do have a very strong business case to bring down interactions with the health-care system and the justice system that are a result of homelessness or the result of housing insecurity . . . which is costing us billions and billions of dollars today,” he said. “Some provinces get that business case, others will need continued reinforcement.”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said “there’s never been such deep alignment of mayors focused on affordable housing.”

That, he says, helps amplify the pressure on both higher levels of government.

“We have an affordable housing crisis in cities across Canada now with Vancouver and Toronto being the hardest hit,” he said. “The Trudeau government has made strong commitments to investing in social housing and addressing rental housing shortage. We just need to see that investment urgently. We need to see action, given the decades of neglect.”

Tory said fixing the housing crisis has become, next to transit, “the issue for a generation.”

“I really believe we’ve stepped up and we have done our part and it’s real money. It’s not statements of good intentions . . . The right course is for these other governments to step up in a meaningful way,” he said.

“I think we’re still getting the short end of the stick.”

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This entry was posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2016 at 11:00 am and is filed under Governance Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Mayors form alliance to push for housing cash”

  1. The relevant areas of concern presented in this article are: first the lack of suitable and affordable housing. Secondly, the absence of funding responsibility at our Provincial and Federal government level. It’s appalling to hear that municipalities are investing in their communities and yet other sectors of the government are not corresponding to these efforts. Promises of funding are falling short. and money that is meant to be allocated to housing is being spread thin by lumping other plans into the mix; such as energy retrofits.
    Although the UN in 2006 encouraged Canada to declare the lack of housing a National emergency, the situation has only worsened. Many shelters are at risk of shutting down, or permanently closing for instance, Hope shelter in Toronto, spring, 2016. The number of annually homeless has risen from 230,000 in 2013 to 235,000 in 2016. An obligation for a call into action for a cohesive National Housing Strategy is crucial. Allocating land for new builds and having project incentives such as: tax breaks or rebates for those creating the affordable housing, possibly raising wages and or benefits. A surge in housing will have many positive outcomes: economic stimulation, more jobs, decrease in healthcare and judicial costs, to name a few. The House of Commons declared it was going to end child poverty by the year 2000, housing seems like a prime place to start. Housing needs to be considered a basic human right. November 20th is National Housing Day: walking to see this epidemic resolved.

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