Three governmental budgets have been delivered over the past seven days, and the hundreds of thousands of low, moderate and middle-income Torontonians seeking affordable housing have been left out of all three. The federal budget of March 19 was entirely silent on new affordable housing spending; the provincial budget of March 22 merely re-announced previously allocated federal housing dollars; and the municipal budget of March 26 proposes cuts to local housing and homelessness spending.
The federal government says housing is primarily a provincial and municipal issue. Over the past two decades, it has cut housing funding and downloaded programs. The Ontario government, following suit, has cut provincial housing funding and downloaded programs to municipalities. Provincial housing spending has been flat-lined in recent years. Municipal politicians in Toronto call federal and provincial politicians dead-beats and say it’s all their fault ” even as local officials cut housing and homelessness funding.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of Torontonians trapped in inadequate or unaffordable homes, the tens of thousands in shelters and the uncounted thousands of hidden homeless are left to watch federal, provincial and municipal politicians squabble and pass the buck and point an accusing finger at each other.
Instead of delivering the housing dollars that Torontonians so urgently need, Toronto’s proposed 2007 operating budget of $7.8 billion (which makes it one of the biggest government budgets in Canada ” larger than any of the Atlantic provinces and almost the size of Manitoba or Saskatchewan’s provincial budgets) cuts funding for municipal housing and homelessness programs. Toronto’s 2007 municipal operating budget proposes:
* a 3.5% cut in homeless shelter beds, which means fewer beds available for people forced out on the streets.
* a total of 863 affordable housing units on the 2007 target list, but almost 350 of those were on the 2006 list and weren’t developed, so the number of net new affordable homes is barely above 500 homes (well below the 1,000 target set by City Council).
* overall, spending for Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration is set at $692.5 million for 2007, down by $25 million from the 2006 approved budget of $717.8 million.
In 2007, as in previous years, Toronto is not allocating a single penny of municipal funding for new affordable housing. The city is relying on federal and provincial funding, plus reserve funds created in previous years using federal and provincial funding.
The city has no plans in its 2007 budget to support the tens of millions in additional federal housing funding that will flow to Toronto within days (following the re-announcement, in last Thursday’s provincial budget, that the $392.5 million in federal housing dollars will be released by the end of March 2006).
More than 175,000 Toronto households have annual incomes below $20,000 ” which puts them well below the poverty line and struggling just to pay the rent and cover other necessities such as utilities, food, medicine, transportation and clothing (Source: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census). An all-time record of 31,000 renter households faced eviction in 2006 ” almost all because they couldn’t afford to pay the rent (Source: Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board).
Almost 400,000 Toronto households have annual incomes below $40,000 ” which is the annual income required to afford this city’s average market rent. These are the renter and owner households trapped in the affordability squeeze ” not rich enough to afford their shelter costs, but not poor enough to qualify for the limited housing supports that are available. (Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2006 Rental Market Report)
About 500,000 Toronto households (that’s half of all the households in the city) have annual incomes below $60,000 ” which is the annual income required to afford an average condominium. For them, the idea of owning even a tiny condominium (including a down payment of $65,000, along with mortgage, utility, common fees, and property taxes) is at best a remote fantasy. (Source: RBC Economics, Housing Affordability, 2007)
And less than 20% of all Toronto households (or about 170,000 households) have annual incomes above $100,000 ” which is the annual income required for a standard two-storey home in Toronto (in addition to a down payment of $110,000). (Source: RBC Economics, Housing Affordability, 2007) More than eight out of every ten Toronto households have been shut out of the conventional home ownership market.
Other municipalities ” such as Waterloo Region ” have a better housing record than Toronto because they have put municipal dollars on the table, and leveraged the federal and provincial dollars that are available to them. For instance, in recent years, Waterloo has developed about 1,200 new affordable homes ” almost the same as the 1,400 new homes developed in Toronto, even though Waterloo is only one-tenth of the size of Toronto.
Hundreds of thousands of Torontonians are caught in the double bind of shrinking renter household income and rising rents, plus growing need for new affordable homes set against a dwindling supply of affordable rental stock.
Toronto faces major financial challenges. Federal and provincial cost-cutting and downloading, especially in social programs such as housing and welfare, have forced property taxpayers to cover the cost of income-transfer programs. In its most recent budget, the Ontario government announced plans to upload the cost of these programs in the 905 municipalities surrounding Toronto, but the City of Toronto, and the rest of Ontario beyond York, Durham and Peel Regions, are still forced to cover a significant portion of provincially-mandated programs that should be covered by provincial funding.
The 65,000 households on Toronto’s affordable housing waiting list (and the hundreds of thousands of others in housing core need) are left to watch the political squabbling and realize that ” seven days and three budgets later ” they are no closer to finding a good place to call home.
The City of Toronto’s doesn’t have a comprehensive and fully-funded affordable housing strategy. City staff was supposed to deliver a housing strategy last year, but that initiative has been delayed to this year. Neither the federal nor the provincial governments have comprehensive housing and homelessness plans either, just a patchwork of short-term funding and programs.
The Wellesley Institute’s Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto is a fully-costed, practical and effective plan that sets realistic targets for Toronto.
– Michael Shapcott