The recent celebration at the completion of a new townhouse project in Alexander Park looks like a gold star on Toronto’s subsidized housing file. But despite the speeches and balloons it remains a drop in the bucket for affordable housing in this city.
Is it because politicians do not have to worry from day to day about their own housing needs that the affordable housing file sits overstuffed with speeches and meetings but little else of substance for 170,000 on the waiting list for subsidized housing in Toronto alone?
The sluggish rate of response belies the urgency with which the affordable housing crisis cries for solutions and visionary thinking.
Lack of affordable housing is changing the shape of our society in ways that are not being recognized and will not be felt until we are again in another type of social crisis. It means the bulk of baby boomers now becoming eligible for retirement pensions will face a struggle for shelter. It means young people cannot move forward in their lives because they cannot afford independent housing.
We are faced with a growing population whose incomes are precarious while the spaces designated for subsidized rental is shrinking. At the same time, the $2.6 billion needed for maintenance repairs in Toronto Community Housing alone will never be met.
That the provincial government thought it was a good idea to spend almost $43 million to retrofit heating systems in some of these crumbling and aging buildings goes to show just exactly what is wrong in this portfolio.
Why are buildings with units in such disrepair that hundreds have been shuttered being given these kinds of upgrades when it would be more pragmatic to tear them down?
When the mayors of the major cities met to show a united front to the upper levels of government as they did recently to draw attention to the housing crisis, it makes a nice photo-op. However, if there is no ongoing, concerted action beyond that, the goal on this urgent matter remains elusive.
What does it mean that there are people who have been on the waiting list for affordable housing for more than 10 years? During that same period the cost of electricity has increased by 70 per cent while incomes have been stagnating.
One concern is the public housing bureaucracy seems more invested in its own preservation than attending to the real and worrying concerns of the people living in subsided housing and of those who are languishing on the waiting list.
The housing problem could have been solved a long time ago. It has been done in other places, so it is not as if there is an absence of methods for adequately responding to this crisis.
In New York City, renters are given vouchers that allow them latitude in seeking rental accommodations. Further, why isn’t Toronto engaged in a relationship of rent to own which could be dispensed as a lottery system of people on the waiting list who express interest in taking that route? Why isn’t the city insisting on or giving credits to encourage developers to reserve apartment units that could be rented to people on the waiting list? All of this can go to making the housing problem more manageable.
What are the city, the province and the federal government doing about the growing population of people who are reaching retirement age and will need affordable housing?
Provincial Housing Minister Chris Ballard has nice words about the priority of “ensuring that every person (in the province) has an affordable and suitable home”. Indeed, Ballard has the multi-million dollar figures on paper to make his point.
The reality, though, is that hundreds of thousands in this province have not benefitted, and may never benefit, from a penny of those millions.