The Ontario government has an opportunity in its next provincial budget to make a substantial down payment on a much-needed provincial affordable housing plan. Housing and homelessness experts will be looking for progress in at least five key policy areas in the May 2nd provincial budget:
- Immediately commit the funds for cost-sharing of the federal Investment in Affordable Housing Program announced in the March 2013 federal budget
- Fully restore provincial housing and homelessness funding that was cut last year
- Implement the 2012 recommendation from the Commission on Reform of Ontario’s Public Services to negotiate a new, long-term, adequately funded affordable housing program with the federal government
- Ensure Ontario’s municipalities have the funding and tools they need to meet their requirement to create comprehensive housing and homelessness programs as set out in the provincial Housing Policy Statement
- Move to implement the provincial promise, as part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy, to implement a Universal Housing Benefit for low-income households
Ontario’s upcoming budget is an opportunity for the government to tackle both economic and social goals, writes the Wellesley Institute’s Director of Economic Analysis Sheila Block. A public service budget will help the province reduce inequality. Ongoing austerity is bad for the social and economic health of the province.
Adequate and affordable housing is one of the most important social determinants of personal and population health. The Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canada provides data and analysis on housing issues and solutions in Ontario and across the country. Housing insecurity, as measured by the federal government’s core housing need and other indicators (including growing affordable housing wait lists), is growing deeper and more persistent in most parts of the province.
1. Cost-Sharing New Federal Housing Investments
In its March 2013 budget, the federal government announced a five-year extension of the Investment in Affordable Housing Program at $253 million annually. Housing experts will be looking to Ontario to quickly sign a bilateral housing agreement with the federal government and commit to cost-share its portion, which is estimated at $95 million annually.
2. Fully Restore Provincial Housing And Homelessness Funding
Last year, the Ontario government made substantial cuts to several housing and homelessness programs, and passed those cuts along to municipalities. In late December, the province partially restored – on a transitional basis – some of the funding. The Wellesley Institute, along with our partners, has been tracking the health and social impacts of the cuts to the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), one of several programs that were cut. Local service managers need adequate funding to ensure that housing and homelessness services adequately meet the needs of local populations.
3. Implement The Drummond Commission Recommendation
The 2012 Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services included a strong recommendation that the province take a lead in negotiating an adequately funded and long-term affordable housing deal with the federal government. The five-year Investment in Affordable Housing Program is a good start, but won’t fully meet the diverse housing needs of Ontarians. One way that Ontario can demonstrate its commitment to a new fully-funded affordable housing program is to put provincial money on the table as the Alberta government has already done with its affordable housing and homelessness programs.
4. Municipal Housing And Homelessness Funding And Tools
The Ontario Housing Policy Statement, part of the provincial Long-term Affordable Housing Strategy, requires all municipalities to have a ten-year housing and homelessness plan in place by January 1, 2014, but the province hasn’t given municipalities adequate funding or tools to meet this new requirement. The Wellesley Institute’s provincial pre-budget submission calls on the province to enhance its Infrastructure Ontario affordable housing loan fund to make more financing available for affordable housing. Non-budgetary measures, including provincial authority to allow municipalities to enact inclusionary housing policies, are also necessary.
5. Universal Housing Benefit
High housing costs in the private ownership and rental markets is the single biggest dimension of housing insecurity in this province. Many housing experts have called for an Ontario housing benefit that would cover the gap between what a low-income household can afford to pay and the actual housing costs. The Ontario government, through its poverty reduction strategy, initially indicated support for a housing benefit, but the province needs to develop a practical mechanism.
In his 2009 review of provincial affordable housing programs, the Ontario Auditor General warned that provincial rent supplement (housing benefit) and affordable housing programs were poorly designed and not meeting the needs of the poorest Ontario households, including those on affordable housing wait lists. As the province rolls out new affordable housing and homelessness programs, it needs to work with municipal, academic and community-based housing and homelessness experts to ensure that the programs are effective and meet the real needs of Ontarians.