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Budget cuts could increase efficiency of affordable housing

City Council made an announcement of a 2.6 per cent budget cut that will affect all programs, including affordable housing. So what does this mean for the Open Door program and other affordable housing initiatives in the city?

When the budget cuts were presented at council Tuesday, Councillor Mike Layton put forward a motion to protect Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), which the chair of affordable housing and Councillor Ana Bailao surprisingly voted against.

Though budget cuts are never welcome news for desperate programs like affordable housing, it isn’t as dire as it may seem. Councillor Bailao explains an alternative perspective to the budget cuts involving affordable housing that would ensure it doesn’t cut essential services, but instead would rid the system of inefficiencies.

“We weren’t discussing if anything specific was going to be cut. At community housing, we have 107 IT applications that don’t speak on each other. If we embark on an IT restructure and reduce the cost of doing things, isn’t that a good thing?” Bailao says. “There was nobody talking about cutting anything with an impact. If I can get 2.6 per cent in reduction to be more efficient, why wouldn’t I look at that?”

If the budget cuts put pressure on TCHC to make it more efficient, it could benefit the affordable housing agenda overall. The affordable housing corporation has come under fire over for their inefficiencies, long waitlists, and a lack of proper care for residents. Perhaps tightening up operations would propel TCHC into gear. Open Door, an affordable housing program and approved and amended Wednesday, attempts to address some of these concerns.

The Open Door Affordable Housing program was introduced by Councillor Bailao and Mayor John Tory in November 2015 in an attempt to meet housing targets put forth by the 10-year affordable housing plan. “The plan is for 1000 rental units and 200 ownership annually. There hasn’t been one year that we have fulfilled that goal,” Bailao says. “We know the city is trying hard and we are trying to enhance the partnership. Aside from the affordable housing program, we are saying the city is going to contribute.” Open Door streamlines building applications that have a minimum of 20 per cent affordable housing, provides government land and provides incentives such as the avoidance of building fees and permits.

Additionally, 294 new affordable housing properties were approved in council on Tuesday. Councillor Ana Bailao and other City Council members are slowly but surely making progress in the affordable housing profile though sometimes success feels limited. The recent 550 subsidies for $250 for families that have been on the waitlist for 10 years or more is a prime example of how the needs of people who require housing are not being met as much as the city would like.

“These are larger families that have been on the list for so long. Having a federal government that is talking about a federal housing strategy allows us to do a little more,” Bailao says. “They will be allowed to continue on the waiting list because we don’t believe it is enough but it is a little bit of help.” The Federal Housing Strategy that was recently launched should further help support affordable housing in Toronto.

The Federal Housing Strategy and Toronto’s Housing Summit should help to promote fresh ideas. The Summit will be put on by the City of Toronto to promote new ideas and gather stakeholders to talk about affordable housing solutions. Using sustainable building practices is an example of a possible solution to reduce costs and support the environment.  “The province released their green fund for social housing so that we can get environmental and repairs benefits, and reductions in operations such as electricity. More and more social housing providers are going in that direction,” Bailao says.

It is an uphill battle for Councillor Bailao and the TCHC because of the long waitlist and lack of available affordable housing, but innovation and perseverance could bring the change that Toronto needs. Open Door is a step in the right direction, and it will be interesting to see where the budget cuts are applied.