Ontario housing policy is now being written by the federal government – that’s the grim news in the 2009 provincial budget, released today. While the Ontario government promised in its poverty reduction strategy that it would launch a provincial housing consultation in the spring of 2009, the provincial budget sets out a made-on-Parliament Hill housing plan for Ontario.
The budget includes spending cuts to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that are the biggest cuts of any provincial ministry. Page 97 of the Ontario budget reports that MAH spending will drop to $703.9 million in the coming fiscal year – a six per cent cut from the current year and a big drop of $222 million, or almost 25%, from three years ago. Housing spending will temporarily increase by $352.2 million next year, and an estimated $265 million the following year, before dropping back. The short-term increase over two years is to match federal housing investments – which are explicitly tied to federal housing priorities – for Ontario.
Government officials in today’s provincial budget lock-up said that details on the one-time-only housing investments are still being negotiated with the federal government. There are no details on commitment timelines or allocations, although it is expected that the new dollars – when they are finally available – will be administered by municipal service managers across the province.
The federal government set three housing priorities: more than half the new dollars will go to social housing repairs (even though only about 5% of Ontarians live in social housing, and most low-income Ontarians live in private rental housing), and almost everything else is to go to seniors and people with disabilities. There are few dollars for non-senior households, even though the latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that more than one-in-four Ontario households are precariously housed.
“People living in social housing, seniors and people with disabilities all deserve healthy and affordable homes,” says Michael Shapcott, senior policy fellow at the Wellesley Institute. “But so do all the other Ontarians who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, including the 125,000 households on affordable housing waiting lists and the tens of thousands of people who are homeless – not to mention the growing number of Ontarians losing their jobs and at risk of losing their homes. The provincial budget shrinks funding for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and offers virtually nothing for millions of Ontarians who are insecurely housed. Ontario is relying on the federal government to set housing priorities and housing policy, and that has left far too many low, moderate and even middle-income households out in the cold.”
In the lead-up to the provincial budget, the Wellesley Institute called on the provincial government to make two key housing investments: First, match the federal housing dollars, and, second, add new provincial dollars to meet the housing needs that have been ignored and neglected by the federal government. The Alberta government recently announced a bold $3.2 billion plan to end homelessness in that province that, in equivalent terms, would equal more than $12 billion for Ontario (which is significantly larger in terms of population than Alberta). On a per capita basis, Alberta is investing more than double the dollars in housing as Ontario.
As Ontario heads into the spring housing consultation, the provincial government needs to demonstrate that its housing policy will be made at Queen’s Park and not on Parliament Hill. To do that, Ontario needs to put provincial housing dollars on the table, which will be geared to provincial housing priorities.