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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.

National Housing Strategy has a long road ahead to fix housing crisis

Housing should be a universal right? It shouldn’t be an expensive commodity that leaves many people who can’t afford it suffering on the street.

Canada’s federal government has launched a campaign called ‘Let’s Talk Housing’ to engage Canadians in a dialogue about the state of affordable housing in the country. The goal of the campaign is to begin the process of creating a National Housing Strategy.

Canada is the only developed country in the world that does not currently have a National Housing Strategy. To add salt to the wound, it is estimated there are currently 226,000 homeless people in Canada and over three million living in poverty. People who do have a place to call their own spend a substantial amount of their income on their housing, leaving them strained to afford other essential needs.

The campaign reaches out to Canadians in three ways; a survey, sharing your ideas, and submitting a written statement. The survey lacks detail, but does emphasize the core principles that the federal government intends to include in the National Housing Strategy. The strategy focuses on housing as environmentally sustainable, fiscally responsible, community-centered, and inclusive, among other things.

Across the country, there are affordable housing shortages. In Ontario, there are 171, 360 households (individuals or families) waiting for housing, with an average wait time of four years, according to a report by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. A substantial portion of the Ontario waitlist is based in Toronto, with 93,515 in need of affordable homes. Montreal is next in line, with a waitlist sitting at 24,639 people, a result of a lack of adequate budgeting being put into housing since 2009. Vancouver’s and Ottawa’s housing waitlist both have about 9,500 on it and they are continually growing. The high need for affordable housing in the coastal city is due to the astronomical housing and rental costs, leaving many without anywhere to live. With a much smaller population, Alberta still has a long waitlist with 10,000 waiting for housing in both Calgary and Edmonton, according to the CHRA. This list continues to grow due to the declining economy and the Fort McMurray wildfires, destroying many homes.

The announcement of the National Housing Strategy has been met with criticism because of the associated costs of providing housing for everyone who needs it. The current federal budget can simply not withstand the costs associated with the housing crisis and the federal government has quite the challenge ahead. From housing costs skyrocketing in major urban centres to a severe lack of social housing nation-wide, it is difficult to know where to even start on the housing agenda. Needless to say, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos will have to perform miracles to get the housing agenda moving after the results of the campaign are published.

The ‘Let’s Talk Housing’ campaign closes on October 21 and the results will be released on National Housing Day on November 22. There will also be several housing roundtables throughout the month of September and keep updated on twitter through #letstalkhousing.

What is your opinion of the housing crisis in Canada? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

Is the $250 housing subsidy for 550 families enough?

Affordable housing is a central issue in Toronto and the city is attempting to help people on the overwhelmingly long waitlist.

Toronto mayor John Tory and city councillor Ana Bailão announced 550 new housing subsidies of $250 per month for families waiting on the affordable housing waiting list. These housing allowances are funded under the Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program that is hosted by the federal and provincial governments. The $250 monthly subsidy is meant to help families pay for the cost of their homes while they wait for more affordable housing.

The City of Toronto provides 4000 housing rental subsidies and this funding is directly linked to the rental unit. The new subsidies are not connected to the unit, which allows families more flexibility in moving if they so desire. There are 97,000 households and 176,000 people on the affordable housing waitlist. No new housing licenses have been given since 2012.

The $250 subsidy was given to 550 families with three or more children and who have been on the waitlist for 10 years or more. The subsidy is also targeting people who need wheelchair accessible units who have been on the waitlist for eight years or more. Currently, the median rent income in Toronto for a one bedroom in City Centre is $1524.26 per month, and outside of the city centre, it is $1139.42. For three bedrooms in the city, the cost is $2636.57, and $1807.29 outside of city centre.

Considering the length of the waitlist, I wonder whether 550 subsidies consisting of $250 per month is appropriate considering inflated rent rates in Toronto. People are in desperate need of housing, and sitting on the waitlist for over 10 years does not adequately meet the requirements for basic human care in Toronto. The state of affordable housing deserves immediate attention and should become a central focus for City Council.

The City of Toronto is beginning to take affordable housing seriously with more plans coming to the surface as of this week. Upon City Council approval next week, 294 new affordable rental homes will be built across the city. The Open Door program is also set to encourage developers to begin building affordable units. The city will host the Toronto Housing Summit on Sept.30, which will include stakeholders in affordable housing that will discuss input on the National Housing Strategy, a federal initiative for cities and organizations to submit proposals to find the best solution to housing in the country.

With hope, affordable housing will be a central focus at City Council next week and these projects can move forward in earnest.