Toronto City Council’s Executive Committee voted unanimously on October 9 to back a plan by Councillor Ana Bailao’s special housing working group to preserve most of Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s affordable single family homes. The Bailao committee recommends that 619 homes be saved and proposes the sell-off of only 55 homes. It sets out a two-phase strategy that would immediately pump up to $120 million into TCHC over the next two years to fund urgent capital repairs, giving the city’s social housing landlord time to develop a comprehensive and pragmatic five-year plan for financial and operational sustainability. The Bailao report sets out a series of innovative options to allow TCHC to tackle the large and growing unfunded capital repair bill – which was created when federal and provincial governments downloaded aging social housing to the city without adequate capital reserves.
In the spring of 2011, Mayor Rob Ford enthusiastically backed a plan by the one-man board of TCHC (selected by the Mayor after the previous board was purged in an unprecedented move) to sell-off 900 affordable TCHC homes scattered throughout the city. The mayor initially planned to use the anticipated revenues of $400 million from the housing sell-off to fund other municipal spending. After political opposition, the mayor announced in June of 2011 that he still backed the massive sell-off, but that the proceeds should stay at TCHC to cover a capital repair shortfall that was estimated by the housing agency at $650 million.
TCHC tenants, housing advocates and community leaders mounted a strong campaign in support of the single family homes threatened by the sell-off, and by February a majority of Toronto city councillors backed the community campaign to preserve the housing. Councillor Bailao was appointed by Toronto City Council in March to head a special working group to chart a more sustainable future for the scattered site housing. The Wellesley Institute worked over the past six months with 37 TCHC tenants, housing providers and other community leaders to feed practical ideas to the working group, along with policy-relevant research that reported on effective practices in managing scattered site housing in other cities, including Chicago and New York City.
At the Executive Committee meeting on Monday, Mayor Ford praised the Bailao committee report to preserve most TCHC affordable homes as “a great beginning”. Others on the Executive Committee also praised Councillor Bailao and the report was adopted with every member of Executive backing the preservation plan. The Bailao report moves to Toronto City Council at the end of the month for approval. With the Mayor and his supporters firmly backing the TCHC preservation strategy, the Bailao report is expected to be adopted by City Council without opposition.
While the Bailao working group has set out a plan to stabilize TCHC housing, the city still faces a large and growing shortfall in new affordable homes, plus growing unaffordability in the city’s private ownership and rental housing markets. The Wellesley Institute’s own research, and the research of many others, confirms that a good home is a fundamental requirement for a healthy life. Housing is not only critical to individual health, but also for the social and economic health of the entire community, as noted in the Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canadareport. Our Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto, developed in 2006, set out a practical and pragmatic plan to create affordable housing for all. Toronto City Council adopted its own affordable housing plan in 2009.
Toronto’s affordable housing wait list hit another new record in August with 86,604 households on the full list – up 27% from the 68,369 households in August of 2011. Toronto’s affordable housing wait list includes 159,965 women, men and children with low incomes who are lining up for a space in the 10% of city housing that is neither private ownership nor private rental housing. This includes Toronto Community Housing Company homes, plus co-op and non-profit housing. The city’s wait list has set a new record every month since the recession of 2008.
Affordable housing investments – both to fund new homes and also to ensure existing homes are kept in a good state of repair and affordable – have been eroding in Canada since federal and provincial housing programs were gutted in the 1990s. Ontario’s most recent budget continued the provincial cuts to housing, and the province has also announced an additional $21 million in cuts to housing and homeless programs in Toronto. The latest annual report from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the federal government’s housing agency, confirm thecontinuing federal cuts to housing investments.
Bill C-400 is draft legislation that would require the federal government to negotiate a new national housing plan with provinces, territories, municipalities, Aboriginal groups, the community and private sectors. The bill is scheduled for second reading debate on October 17, 2012.