Four former mayors urge City Council, Ontario government to reject scheme to sell-off 706 affordable homes
Four former Toronto mayors are urging current Mayor Rob Ford and Ontario housing minister Kathleen Wynne to reject a proposal to sell-off 706 Toronto Community Housing Company affordable homes. Former mayor Barbara Hall, chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, warns in her letter that the sell-off could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code; and former mayors David Crombie, John Sewell and Art Eggleton call on the City of Toronto to “re-engage the federal and provincial governments in a financially sustainable solution” to TCHC’s capital funding shortfall.
The proposal to sell-off the affordable housing is to be considered by Toronto City Council within days. The Wellesley Institute has warned in a detailed backgrounder that the sell-off would be bad for the health of low-income renters in Toronto and bad for the population health of Toronto.
Toronto Community Housing is the largest affordable housing landlord in Canada, and the second largest in North America. It provides a home to 164,000 tenants – many of them among the poorest in Toronto – in 58,500 households. The TCHC portfolio includes 2,115 buildings ranging from high-rise to single-family homes. The TCHC stock includes 874 housing units scattered throughout Toronto – many of them in middle or upper-income neighbourhoods – as part of TCHC’s “stand-alone” portfolio.
TCHC proposes to sell 706 of those stand-alone homes. Under provincial rules, the housing company must have permission from both Toronto City Council and the Ontario government to sell 686 of those homes.
TCHC has an estimated capital repair shortfall of $650 million – and that could grow by $100 million annually if neglected, warn TCHC staff in a report that proposes the sell-off. However, even if all the homes are sold at well over their assessed value, the net proceeds would only cover about half the capital shortfall. Former mayors Crombie, Sewell and Eggleton warn that the proposed sale “does not provide the long term financial solution needed to address the repair crisis facing Toronto Community Housing” and they urge the City of Toronto to negotiate seriously with the federal and provincial governments for adequate funding. Both levels of government have provided some capital funding for TCHC housing in 2008 and 2009, but the total amount was far short of the growing capital shortfall.
The TCHC repair shortfall was created when the federal and provincial governments unilaterally downloaded affordable housing stock to Toronto and other municipal governments across Ontario in the late 1990s. Neither level of government provided adequate capital reserves for the buildings, including the former Ontario Housing Corporation high-rise projects, downloaded to TCHC.
Meanwhile, Chief Commissioner Hall notes in her letter that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has identified a number of human rights and housing issues in a series of consultations and reports starting in 2007. The OHRC has warned that segregating affordable housing in a few neighbourhoods risks “ghettoization” of low and moderate-income households, contrary to the human rights code. The TCHC stand-alone portfolio proposed for sale includes some of the only affordable housing in upper-income neighbourhoods.
All four former mayors also warn against selling off affordable homes at a time when Toronto’s affordable housing list sets new records month after month. Toronto Housing Connections, the city’s affordable housing wait list, included 82,138 households at the end of December. Every month in recent years, the wait list has set a new record.
Selling off TCHC housing would leave fewer affordable homes as the city faces unprecedented demand for new homes. The vacancy rate in Toronto’s private rental housing is falling, and rents are rising – leaving private sector housing increasing out of reach for low and moderate-income households.
Toronto’s proposed 2012 municipal budget, which will be considered by city council this week, could add to TCHC financial troubles by imposing a $6 million cut to the city’s subsidy to the affordable housing provider. A Wellesley Institute backgrounder sets out other housing and homelessness cuts that are part of the draft 2012 municipal budget.