This question was asked anonymously via our latest website survey: “What are the latest policy developments on housing in Toronto and GTA? Any signs of improvements on affordable housing and supportive housing?”
We’ve written extensively about the lack of affordable housing in Canada, and this is a very acute problem in Toronto. In October 2014, I wrote a post about the state of housing and poverty in Toronto, and highlighted a number of issues that are unfortunately still relevant, including: significant shelter and food bank use; and being home to Canada’s largest income gap.
The situation is dire. For homebuyers, the city is the third least affordable behind Vancouver and Victoria, with average homes costing about 6.7 times beyond the median income (Global News). According to recent studies summarized in the Globe and Mail, part of the problem is demand: there’s simply more people seeking housing in Toronto than what’s currently available. Because Toronto’s rental stock relies so heavily on private ownership, as the price of property ownership rises, so do rents. This combined with the municipality’s long backlog of repairs on subsidized housing and snail-like pace of building new housing hasn’t improved the situation.
According to Housing Connections’ latest report, there are 171,309 people currently waiting for affordable housing in Toronto—that’s a lot of people. The good news is that there have been some developments towards improving affordable housing in this city, and I’ve highlighted some of the most promising.
Legislation and policies
Co-operation and commitment between governments will be crucial in addressing the need for affordable housing, so here’s a quick rundown of some positive movements in policies and legislation at all three levels that could mean good things for Toronto’s housing stock.
This year, the federal government promised a $2.5 billion boost spread over 2016 and 2017 under The Affordable Housing Initiative. There’s also money dedicated to repairing old and building new, affordable housing ($504 million) and for energy-saving retrofits in existing social housing buildings ($573.9 million). That’s a lot of money Toronto desperately needs—I look forward to see what gets done with it. (For more housing budget details related to homelessness and affordability, check out Raising the Roof’s summary.)
The Liberal party had also promised to develop a new national housing strategy, something Canada hasn’t had since 1993. I’m heartened to see movement on this: Consultations opened this year through the website Let’s Talk Housing, where people can upload written statements or take surveys to share their housing ideas. The deadline for these is October 21, so get yours in!
Though the strategy will surely take a lot of time to complete, it’s extremely important that it be done well. Since operating agreements—federal funds sent to social housing providers to subsidize rents—with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation are set to end in 2020, a new plan must be put in place to help keep units affordable.
In March 2016, three important updates were added to the Ontario Long-Term Affordable Housing strategy. One was the inclusion of funding and focus on a supportive housing framework to better connect necessary services (mental health, substance use, accommodations and other supports) with housing. Another was a rent-geared-to-income (RGI) subsidy, which is important, but also requires more modifications. As Greg Sutton pointed out in a post about the strategy changes:
Ontario has a system of RGI in social housing that – although an essential social program – is a frozen legacy of a 30 to 50 year old policy. In a province with almost half a million low-income renter households struggling to avoid arrears, RGI helps about 200,000 of them while most of the rest receive no assistance. The current system prevents income mix in older municipal social housing, prevents social housing tenants from taking their RGI subsidy to live elsewhere, and prevents the City from sharing these dollars around more fairly. While we need an augmented rent subsidy system, we also need flexibility in the existing RGI funding pool to remove barriers for people who need housing assistance.
The third change involved inclusionary zoning, which was proposed as legislation In May 2016 as Bill 204, the Promoting Affordable Housing Act. The bill has been read once (details of what was proposed can be found on the Ministry of Housing website), and will likely be back for another reading in the fall. Mayor John Tory claimed the municipal government will use Bill 204 to get developers to include affordable housing in future residential projects, but as John Michael McGrath pointed out in a post on TVO, there’s nothing in the bill itself that forces municipalities to use it. Even so, simply having the ability to enforce inclusionary zoning is more power than the city currently has.
In 2009, city council passed an affordable housing action plan, which outlined steps to improve affordable housing stock between 2010 and 2020. In the latest update, council has committed funding to refurbish 806 affordable units and rental houses, and consulted stakeholders on a rooming house strategy.
In November 2015, council passed the Open Door program to fasttrack the building of more affordable housing. According to a City of Toronto news brief, the program includes:
• activating five surplus City sites for the construction of 389 affordable rental and ownership homes
• releasing an inventory of 13 other City sites with affordable housing potential
• encouraging the private sector to build more affordable housing by offering City financial incentives currently limited to non-profit groups
• supporting the creation of 200 affordable ownership homes annually through a development charges deferral initiative, and
• providing a minimum of 500 housing allowances to increase affordability in buildings constructed under Open Door.
Regent Park will be hosting an Affordable Housing summit on September 30th, where government officials and other stakeholders will meet to discuss the future of affordable housing in Toronto.
Housing being built
Building housing takes an extremely long time, but some projects are currently in the works:
- The dorms built for the Pan-Am Games are currently being renovated into fully-equipped condos, with 253 units designated as below-market. The project is a partnership between Fred Victor and Wigwamen.
- New Weston Community development is set to include 6 affordable rental units, as well as 26 affordable live/work units for artist-led households.
- Habitat for Humanity is building 50 homes in Scarborough, which are intended to house 50 “working, low-income families.”
At the Homeless Hub, we frequently talk about the importance of not just ending homelessness, but preventing it. It’s been heartening to see the city take some steps shifting away from emergency response. For example:
- 550 families waiting for subsidized housing were given new housing allowances to help them stay in their existing homes while remaining on the waitlist. These were the first allowances given since 2012.
- City council established a permanent, Toronto-based housing allowance reserve fund. They are also in the process of restructuring the centralized social housing waitlist, Housing Connections, to make it more responsive.
- In 2015, the city gave over 3400 families housing allowances and made use of funds for 150 people experiencing homelessness to find long-term housing.
According to the latest progress report, even more prevention-based measures are currently under development. An evictions prevention framework is currently underway, as is a centralized choice-based housing system. These developments combined with new funding for social housing repairs - though these funds are not enough to fully address the backlog - can ensure that the city’s existing affordable housing is improved and remains available.
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide a research-based answer.