Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

No hope for social housing found in Kathleen Wynne's budget

In a response to the provincial budget on April 28, John Tory said the Ontario government
In a response to the provincial budget on April 28, John Tory said the Ontario government “turned their backs” on Toronto's housing and transit needs.

When Mayor John Tory and city council made the agonizing decision last Wednesday to permanently close 138 units of social housing that have fallen into disrepair, they still held out hope.

Hope that some timely investment in social housing from Premier Kathleen Wynne would be coming soon. Hope that the provincial money would be enough to address the $2.6 billion repair backlog facing Toronto Community Housing. Hope that maybe the city wouldn’t be forced to consider kicking more vulnerable low-income people out of their homes.

The 2017 budget, unveiled Thursday by Finance Minister Charles Sousa, includes only minor spending on affordable housing and nothing to address the TCH repair backlog.

No money. No hope.

The province has long been urged to fund, along with the city and the federal government, one-third of the backlog cost. The city has put up its share, and the federal government has indicated a willingness to do the same. Queen’s Park has been the lone hold out.

The lack of cash will have an immediate impact. The 138 TCH units council voted to close and demolish in the northwestern part of the city last week are part of 1,000 units set to close over the next two years due to the lack of funding.

The political ramifications of this are huge. Though Tory doesn’t like to admit it, city hall has the financial capacity to cover the province’s missing housing money. It would likely take a dedicated property tax levy, similar to the levy introduced to fund the Scarborough subway.

But doing that would be letting the provincial government off the hook. Though it feels like ancient history, don’t forget that many of the aging TCH units in disrepair were built by the provincial government and all were intended to be maintained mostly with provincial funds until housing was unceremoniously downloaded onto city hall.

You make a mess, you clean it up, right?

That’s the problem. In effect, paying the province’s share of the bill would be a recognition that public housing is no longer a provincial responsibility. It would be a cost shouldered primarily by the municipality — mostly through property taxes — permanently.

Far more important than the political game of chicken taking place between city hall and Queen’s Park is the human cost of all of this.

TCH operates 58,000 units across the city. Of those, 22,000 households include children, and 21,000 are seniors who live alone. Of the households in rent-geared-to-income units, 94 per cent live below the poverty line, with a median income of $15,225 a year. Nearly a third of households include someone with a disability.

These are the people who live in homes that barely reach the standard of basic livability – homes that may soon fall below that standard. As governments squabble over taxes and responsibility, these are the people left without hope. They are tenants of the City of Toronto — the worst landlord in Toronto — and residents of a province that doesn’t seem to care.

This post was originally published at on 2017-05-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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