It is no secret that affordable housing across the country is in a state of crisis, with more than 224,000 homeless people in Canada. The federal government is finally stepping up to the plate to develop a national housing strategy, a tool that has been desperately needed for years.
At the Toronto Housing Summit Friday, the Big City Mayors’ Caucus came together with mayors from across the country to discuss the need for the new Social Infrastructure Fund (SIF), a federal and provincial social infrastructure investment project. After hearing various representatives from across the country, it became clear that Vancouver is taking the most aggressive approach to affordable housing. In comparison to Vancouver’s recent implementation of an empty house tax, and cracking down on short-term rentals to make way for long-term rental properties, Toronto comparatively seems to be lacking in stamina.
Vancouver has a housing waitlist of approximately 9,500 households, with a population of 602,000 in the inner-city. The Greater Vancouver area has a population of 2.2 million people. Comparatively, Toronto has a housing waitlist of 97,532 households and a population of 6,054.191 people. Though Toronto is substantially bigger, it would be assumed that the largest city in Canada would be the leader in providing solutions for an affordable housing waitlist that stands at nearly 100,000 households desperately waiting for a home.
By implementing city bylaws, Vancouver is enforcing a mandate that makes housing a priority. “People can’t afford to rent or to buy. Our focus is on rental housing, from homelessness to middle income rental housing. We have created an empty house tax, and we are regulating short term rental. Airbnb can only be done in principal homes and not as a business,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said. “We need the federal and provincial government, particularly for people who are homeless. With operating agreements expiring, we need more money. Urgently we need money invested to make sure our most vulnerable populations are protected.”
Robertson and his city council are focused on providing as many solutions as possible, and doesn’t waste time pushing single programs such as Toronto’s Open Door, an affordable housing strategy that has thus far come up short to provide people with homes quickly. Vancouver has even approved empty lots to be used as modular housing, which is a fast form of shelter made from shipping containers to provide people with an immediate solution.
In Ontario, provincial and municipal levels of government need to put their differences aside and start earnestly tackling the affordable housing file together. Toronto Mayor John Tory seems to be on board. “Minister Ballard came today and I took great encouragement from that. We need the province of Ontario to move forward with us and do more,” Tory said. “We are sitting with our government partners and saying we need to act now. If there was one thing that was conveyed, it was the urgency of this issue. Operating agreements are expiring and units are closing. We are here to say let’s do something about it.”
Tory took a very determined stance on the importance of the affordable housing agenda at the housing summit, yet seemed confused about the city’s stance on inclusionary zoning. “We have an opportunity to implement inclusionary zoning,” he responded to a question about gentrification in Regent Park, the neighbourhood where the summit was held. Previously, the city rejected the province’s inclusionary zoning proposal.
Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Declos and Provincial Minister of Housing and Poverty Reduction Chris Ballard also announced $154 million in funding for affordable housing in Toronto. The funding is a good start to help affordable housing in Toronto, but with $1.7 billion needed in repairs for TCHC housing alone, it is a penny in the bucket. All of the mayors echoed Tory’s desperate call for funding to repair social housing.
The federal housing strategy is essential for the benefit of Canadians, but the summit begged the question of when and how the money will be delivered and used by various municipalities across the country. The mayors should look towards Vancouver and begin tackling the issue head on, implementing any useful strategy they can find — including inclusionary zoning.