Ontario’s 2011 Budget Can Build Healthy, Inclusive Province With Investments In Homes, Social Ventures

Later today, I’m joining Rick Blickstead, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, for a meeting with Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. We appreciate the opportunity to deliver practical and pragmatic recommendations about how Ontario’s 2011 budget can build a healthy, inclusive province. A good income and good housing is vital for population health, as research from the Wellesley Institute (Poverty Is Making Us SickSick and Tired, Precarious Housing in Canada 2010) demonstrates, along with other recent research (Statistics Canada). I’ll focus on two important issues: Sustainable funding for Ontario’s Long-term Affordable Housing Strategy; and capitalizing the province’s promised Social Venture Fund.

Recommend that the 2011 provincial budget include sustainable funding for affordable housing to complement the important non-financial measures in Monday’s Ontario Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS).The LTAHS contains a number of important legislative and regulatory changes that promise to make more efficient use of existing housing funding and resources – and this increased efficiency will not only benefit the people currently living in affordable housing, but is also expected to free up some existing dollars to bring home some of the 140,000-plus households on provincial waiting lists. That’s great news. But additional funding is required to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Ontario households whose health is threatened by their precarious housing.

Two funding options:

First, increase Infrastructure Ontario’s affordable housing loan program to $1 billion and review the underwriting rules to make sure that the capital is going out to meet the housing and repair needs of lower-income people living in non-profit and private housing.

Second, commit to sustain provincial housing capital and operating investments at the 2009 level as the province continues its discussions with the federal government about extending national affordable housing initiatives. Even though the feds are scheduled to withdraw their share of affordable housing investments in Ontario at the end of the current fiscal year, the province does not need to follow suit. Simply sustaining the capital investments from fiscal 2009 and 2010 will provide enough funding to support the development of up to 5,000 new healthy and affordable homes every year – even if the federal government totally abandons its housing obligations.

Recommend that the 2011 provincial budget include $20 million in seed capital for the Ontario Social Venture Fund. This fund was first proposed in the Liberal campaign platform in 2007, but was put on hold when the recession hit in the fall of 2008. The Ontario government renewed its commitment to capitalizing the fund with the December 2008 release of the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy, but the government hasn’t yet committed any funding. Research shows that the initial UK government investment of £20m has leveraged more than £120m of private investments over six years, and triggered the development of more than £325m in other social venture capital funds. This would allow enterprising non-profits and social purpose businesses to have access to the vital capital that they need to launch and grow. These social enterprises are geared to deliver a multiple bottom line: Financial, social and environmental. So, the initial modest Ontario investment would deliver solid social, economic and health benefits.