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Toronto mayor moves to create 400 new shelter spaces

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced over the weekend his desire to create 400 new spaces within existing shelters for the city’s homeless “as soon as possible.” This statement was made at the tip of Toronto’s homelessness crisis, in which one of four children live in poverty.

As of October 30, 2017, 70 homeless people have died on the streets. Over 5,400 people on average used a shelter night in the month of November.

“We’re already underway, talking to each of the shelters that exists in the city of Toronto, asking them to add capacity wherever they possibly can,” he said. These new spaces would include motels, shelters and drop-in centres.

It was previously suggested that Toronto open up armouries at Fort York and Moss Park to use as shelters, but that idea has been dismissed as they are under federal jurisdiction. The mayor also said he would not be declaring an official emergency. The plan would cost about $10 million from the city’s reserves.

Housing advocates have said this plan will put a strain on facilities already suffering from overcrowding. Most shelters are 96 to 100 per cent at capacity, especially during the winter months. Statistics also show that 95 per cent of motel beds in Toronto are used to house homeless people. Advocates say it would be easier and cheaper to open up the armouries.

This response caused a little bit of a stir at city council on Tuesday, with the mayor coming forward with facts from staff that say opening the armouries would be expensive and problematic.

“I will be bringing together private and non-profit housing providers to work with staff and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness to rapidly house as many people as possible,” he said in a statement. “Homelessness is a complex issue that we cannot ignore. While I know for some, our concrete solutions will never be enough – I know we can’t simply do nothing, we must take decisive action and I’m confident Council will join me in taking decisive action.”

Under the mayor’s plan, the city hopes to find space for 200 people by January.

This announcement is the first of a number of steps the City of Toronto is going to take to combat poverty. City council has also pledged to create more low-income and social housing, and hopes to get funding and support from the federal government under the new National Housing Strategy.

Why does everything take 11 years?

This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a National Housing Strategy. This is something Canadians have been anticipating for a few years now.

The Liberal government promised to spend $11.2 billion over the next 11 years on housing, something they say will reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent. The Prime Minister also pledged to use a portion of the national co-investment fund to repair Canada’s social stock. It is unclear how much funding that would equal. Other aspects of the strategy include:

  • $15.9 billion for a national co-investment fund that will build an estimated 60,000 new units and repair 240,000 others. At least 2,400 units will go to people with developmental disabilities, 12,000 units for seniors, and 7,000 for survivors of family violence.
  • $2 billion for a new Canada Housing Benefit for low-income families and individuals.
  • $2.2 billion to expand homelessness partnering strategy.
  • $4.3 billion for a Canada Community Housing Initiative partnered with provinces
  • At least 25 per cent of investments will support projects that target needs of women and girls
  • And, legislation that would require future federal governments to maintain a national housing strategy.

Now, don’t get me wrong — it’s great the government has finally created a national strategy for housing. With the cost of homes ballooning and the incredibly long wait-lists for social housing; and the city of Toronto declaring a state of emergency with the number of shelter beds available in the winter, it’s the perfect time for this housing strategy to be released.

But, why is it that every single promising investment the Canadian government makes comes with an 11-year timeline? It doesn’t matter whether the issue is transit, infrastructure, or housing, it’s always 11 years. There is probably a budgetary reason for this timeline, but for those who aren’t privy to that information, it comes across as a bit slow. Shelter beds and affordable housing is needed now, not 11 years from now. In 11 years, the people who need the housing will either a) have found a way to get themselves and their family into a housing unit, b) have come to terms with homelessness or c) have died from cold exposure after living on the street or illness from a poorly kept or cockroach-infested building. 

A few hundred protestors from big cities across Canada made this exact point this week, saying the national strategy should commit to making some changes in two years time, so that those struggling right now are helped by this strategy. They say housing is needed now to curb the crisis and get people off the street.

Yes, the government should be looking to the future. If they don’t, there will never be any progress. But, when it comes to the livelihood of its citizens — Canada can act a little faster.

Affordable housing to recieve billions in federal budget

The federal budget is taking affordable housing seriously, with a new National Housing Strategy that wants to tackle Canada’s housing crisis.

The 2017 budget proposes to spend $11.2 billion over 11 years and will build safe and affordable housing across the country. In cities with high prices and a severe lack of affordable housing, like Toronto and Vancouver, this funding cannot come soon enough. The government’s proposed housing fund will be run by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) — the country’s public insurance program for mortgages. The CMHC will receive $5 billion over 11 years to work on several projects related to housing. Another $3.2 billion will be dedicated to affordable housing specifically and will use a multilateral investment framework, relying on private and public funding to get affordable housing projects up and running across the country.

Out of the $11.2 billion, $3 billion will be spent in the next three years and $20 million for this year.

The money budgeted falls short of what the big city mayors caucus asked for at their meeting in late 2016. They asked for a pledge of $12.6 billion, spread over eight years to solve the affordable housing crisis that are growing in Canada’s largest cities. Toronto specifically has $2.6 billion in repairs needed for Toronto Community Housing units on the brink of being closed down.

Mayor John Tory is asking that the province pitch in to the housing fund as well and fill the gap that the federal government cannot commit to. Affordable housing in Toronto needs a huge investment to repair current community housing units as well as provide more. There are 82,414 households on the waitlist in the city, most consisting of families and seniors, and with rising house costs people are desperate for somewhere to live.

All three levels of government ultimately need to work together to tackle the affordable housing crises popping up across Canada. The National Housing Strategy is a brave step and the commitment of billions of dollars will make headway to giving vulnerable parts of the population somewhere safe and healthy to live. Without a home, it is nearly impossible to escape the throes of poverty — finally it seems that Canada is realizing the importance of shelter in the Great White North. Let’s hope that investment is maintained!

“Let’s Talk Housing” report leaves many wondering what’s next

Affordable housing in Canada is in a state of crisis. Every year, more than 150,000 Canadians stay in an emergency shelter and 35,000 people are homeless each night. Considering the housing problem across the country, what is the federal government doing about it?

On National Housing Day on Tuesday, a report was released by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), based on of four months of consultation from 7000 Canadians. The report detailed various themes including affordable housing, indigenous issues, and funding of the housing strategy from a variety of stakeholders.

Though the report discussed a variety of important issues in Canada, it didn’t describe any concrete solutions to the housing crisis currently plaguing the country. It laid out a variety of housing issues that need to be solved, and was vague in scope when providing answers. The long-awaited report from months of consultations mostly gathered data from the online survey that was provided, which also asked vague questions such as whether low-income or sustainable housing was more important. It is now clear that the report seems to be more of a tool of distraction than to actually begin the process of providing affordable and sustainable housing solutions.

The report assessed how Canadians feel about housing across the country, which is useful for research though doesn’t begin to solve concrete housing issues. Social housing renewal, which consists of paying to fix current social housing, was ranked in the top four themes in every province and territory except Yukon, where it was instead voted as the least important issue. ‘Housing that contributes to Canada’s climate changes goals’ was ranked as the least important theme across the country. Interestingly, the survey response rate in Alberta and B.C far exceeded the overall population proportion where as in Ontario and Quebec it was the opposite. This indicates that the western provinces had a more responsive population per capita than Ontario and Quebec. Finding housing for vulnerable Canadians was voted as a top issue and will be a key commitment in the coming housing strategy.

Unfortunately, in the ‘Next Steps’ section of the report, little was offered to the public as to which ideas will be adopted. Instead, the 10 year housing strategy is due to be released in 2017 in time for the federal budget. This leaves many affordable housing associations in a limbo in the meantime while they wait for the government to make final decisions on which strategies will be adopted under the housing umbrella. The #letstalkhousing campaign and the resulting report left many disappointed because of its lack of direction towards next steps for the future of the housing crisis in Canada.

As a housing and sustainability reporter, it is frustrating to see how slowly the federal housing agenda is moving in developing a 10-year strategy. Homelessness and a lack of low-income housing is a key issue and needs to be a top priority in Canada. Immediate solutions are needed such as providing the much needed $1.7 billion to begin fixing homes that are falling apart under the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and allowing municipalities to use dedicated funding to finding new housing solutions now instead of next year.

Though consultations and public participation are important, it should be a priority to make concrete decisions alongside collecting data instead of waiting so long to start making changes for Canadians desperate to find homes. The housing crisis needs to be dealt with in a more timely fashion, and hopefully in the meantime cold Canadians on the street can keep themselves warm with the pages of the housing report.