The federal government has recently announced that it will transfer $801 million over five years to the province of Ontario to build new and affordable housing. That sounds like a lot of money but, in reality, it is not. Let’s call it a start. In Toronto alone, there are currently close to 170,000 people on the waiting list for subsidized housing.
Many people find even market rent accommodations all but impossible. There are renters in Toronto paying as much as 80 per cent of their income toward shelter.
Those who are unable to afford market rent and are successful in finding housing where rents are controlled or capped to income, usually find the areas in which they have to live depressed, since just about everyone else living there is in the same low-income bracket – unemployed or underemployed.
Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), the country’s largest government-run housing project, is tasked with maintaining housing stock that is in a constant state of under-funding, with close to a billion dollars in repairs pending. City manager Joe Pennachetti has given an estimate of $2.6 billion to carry out TCHC repairs over the next decade.
Some changes are in the works such as the rebuilding in Regent Park to create a mixed market format rather than the previous one in which the area residents collectively were among the poorest in the region.
One possible solution to the rental housing shortage would be to diversify neighbourhoods. A change in policy that gives subsidies to renters so that they can live wherever they wish could go a long way towards alleviating the affordable housing crisis.
There is a glut of empty condominiums on the market that could provide housing for many on the waiting list. A system that allows property owners to register their unoccupied units as available for subsidized renters could be established to match the needs of potential renters. It would be a much more immediate and affordable approach than waiting for expensive repairs to current housing stock that may take decades.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has identified affordable housing as a right, but so far the various levels of government have been lax in putting force behind that right. As we get closer to the municipal elections on October 27, the offerings from mayoral front-runners show a range of responses on what to do about the public housing issue. David Soknacki has suggested that money could be taken from the large police budget and moved into TCHC repairs, while Olivia Chow has suggested the already well-worn route of asking the feds for more money. Rob Ford likes to have his photo taken with TCHC residents but offers no ideas on how to remedy the crumbling housing stock or where to place those on the waiting list. We still don’t know what John Tory’s response is on housing.
It would take some courage to say that it is time for the city to get out of the property management business. But if saving tax dollars and using it more efficiently is what voters say matter most, then the budget allocation for the TCHC can be addressed by beginning to allow residents to make the transition away from ghettoized communities and instead to become integrated throughout the city.
We do find much hope in the Regent Park renewal project as well as the construction of new neighbourhoods such as the upcoming Canary District being built on the west Port Lands to house athletes during next summer’s Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, but which will then be converted to a mixed-use residential complex. This city needs more of these solutions. However, these are expensive and limited in scope. They will not meet all the needs. We have to look at other options. Diversifying neighbourhoods can be one such option.