The proposals in Toronto’s draft budget to shut down three transitional shelters for 97 elderly and health-compromised homeless women and men will “save” city taxpayers less than $2 million, but will be costly to the health and lives of individuals who will lose access to a valuable service – and will also be costly to the rest of Torontonians. The shelter shutdowns are among a number of affordable housing and homelessness cuts to be considered by Toronto City Council when it meets for final consideration of the budget next week. City council will also separately review a request from Toronto Community Housing Company to sell-off more than 700 affordable homes in a bid to generate more funds for the cash-strapped city housing agency.
The latest numbers from Toronto Housing Connections – which manages the city’s affordable housing wait list – show that a record 82,138 households have added their names to the list as of the end of December. That’s a 7 percent increase from the previous December. Toronto’s wait list has been setting a new record every month for more than two years. With only 280 households housed during December, a household that signed onto the list that month could be waiting for 24 years to find a place to call home.
Budgets are about choices: choices about spending and revenues; choices about supporting vital programs and services; choices about the use of fiscal surpluses and tax revenues; choices about city-building and protecting vulnerable people. Toronto City Council’s decisions next week on proposed housing and homelessness cuts in the draft municipal budget will underline the choices that they have decided to make.
The proposed cuts up for review by council in the latest draft of the municipal budget for Shelter, Housing and Support (current at the time of writing this posting):
- Closing the 10-bed Bellwoods transitional shelter for elderly women with a history of mental illness and chronic homelessness. Shutting down this shelter will “save” city taxpayers $240,000. The shelter provides accommodation and support on a short-term basis for women seeking to make the transition from living on the streets to healthy housing.
- Closing the 27-bed Downsview Dells transitional shelter for elderly men who have been chronically homeless and who are in addiction treatment programs. Shutting down this shelter will “save” city taxpayers $652,000. Like Bellwoods, Downsview Dells provides short-term accommodation while the men are making the transition from homelessness to healthy housing.
- Closing the 60-bed Birchmount longer-term shelter for elderly men who have been chronically homeless. Shutting down this shelter will “save” city taxpayers $1 million. Birchmount is a vital pipeline for older men who want to move from Seaton House, the city’s largest shelter for men, to healthy housing.
- Cutting $6 million from the city subsidy to the already cash-strapped Toronto Community Housing Company. TCHC says that its large fiscal problems, including a big capital repair backlog caused by federal and provincial neglect, have forced it to propose selling off hundreds of homes. The loss of an additional $6 million from the city subsidy pushes TCHC even deeper into the financial hole.
- Cutting $1.5 million in subsidies to private landlords that will cut the number of low-income households that receive housing allowances from 1,340 to 1,087. Fewer rent subsidies means that fewer low-income households will be able to move into vacant private rental units.
- Cutting $265,000 in subsidies to non-profit landlords that will cut the number of low-income households that receive housing allowances from 205 to 146. Fewer rent subsidies means that fewer low-income households will be able to live in existing non-profit and co-op buildings.
- Cutting the number of homeless shelter beds from 1,713 nightly to 1,643 nightly; with the number of annual bed-nights to be cut by 0.8 percent to 1.406 million. Fewer shelter beds means fewer options for rough-sleepers (homeless people living outside) and also for the hidden homeless (people living temporarily with family or friends).
Toronto City Council’s long-term affordable housing plan – Housing Opportunities Toronto – calls for 70,000 new housing allowances / rent supplements over the next decade, but the draft 2012 operating budget moves the city backward by proposing to eliminate 312 housing allowances.
Overall, Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration faces a 15 percent cut to its operating budget – or a loss of $137 million. Almost $114 million of that comes from cuts from the federal and provincial governments, with the city considering adding $23 million of its own cuts.
In addition, city council will consider cuts of more than 10 percent to the Affordable Housing Office, which are tied to a plan to radically slow down development of new affordable homes and repairs for existing rundown low-income housing.
The budget proposals would:
- Rapidly wind down new affordable housing development, from an estimated 1,502 affordable homes developed in 2011 to 300 in 2014 – which is 15 percent of the official annual target set by Toronto City Council for new affordable and supportive homes.
- Slash the number of rundown affordable homes that are repaired or renovated from the 1,034 homes estimated in 2011 to 400 homes by 2014 – which is 7 percent of the official annual target set by Toronto City Council for repairs to non-profit and private low-income housing.
Toronto City Council’s long-term affordable housing plan (Housing Opportunities Toronto) calls for funding for 2,000 new supportive and affordable homes annually, and funding for repairs to 6,000 non-profit and private homes annually.
Toronto expects to receive $108 million in federal and provincial affordable housing funding shortly to pay for new homes and repairs to existing housing over the next two years, but the winding down of city affordable housing programs as proposed in the budget raises questions about whether the city will be able to effectively allocate those funds.
Taken together, the proposed cuts to housing and homelessness programs amount to a fraction of a percentage of the overall municipal budget, but they will have a devastating impact on the health and lives of the tens of thousands of Torontonians who directly experience homelessness, the hundreds of thousands who are precariously housed and the entire city.
Wellesley Institute’s 2012 budget overview here.
Proposed housing / homelessness cuts threaten health here.
Selling off TCHC homes bad for Toronto’s health here.