May 13, 2009: After more than a year of consultation, the City of Toronto has finally released its proposed 10-year housing plan. Hundreds of U.S. cities, and dozens of Canadian ones, have already developed and are busy implementing practical and pragmatic affordable housing plans, so Toronto needs to move quickly and take decisive action to catch up. A growing number of cities in Ontario and across Canada are supporting the development of thousands of new affordable homes. Toronto’s plan goes to City Council for final approval in early July, but there’s still plenty of work to strengthen some key shortfalls. Click here for links to the City of Toronto’s Housing Opportunities Toronto plan and the Wellesley Institute’s Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto.
What’s in Toronto’s plan: The plan includes a new Toronto Housing Charter that states “all residents should have a safe, secure, affordable and well-maintained home”. The Charter sets an excellent foundation on which to build a comprehensive affordable housing plan. The plan also includes a commitment to develop a detailed implementation strategy that will allow all the key players – community-based housing groups, the private sector and the City of Toronto – to work together. The plan pulls together a number of existing city housing initiatives – such as the social housing repair program, Streets to Homes and housing first strategy, tax credits for some home owners – and puts them in a co-ordinated package. With today’s plan, the city is well-placed to effectively spend the hundreds of millions in federal and provincial housing dollars that are due to start flowing shortly as part of economic stimulus plans. In addition, the plan sets out a strategy to ensure that Toronto’s critically important “housing first” policy for surplus lands delivers appropriate land for new housing development (Toronto has had some difficulty delivering on the “housing first” policy in recent years).
Painfully low targets: The city’s previous critically low annual target of 1,000 new affordable homes (of which only 200 would be truly affordable to low and moderate-income households) remains unchanged in the new 10-year plan. This target is half the amount previously adopted by Toronto City Council in 1999 following the year-long review by the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force. The current target is less than one-quarter of the 4,500 new homes annually set out in the Wellesley Institute’s Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto. The city’s new target of 1,070 new supportive homes annually is about half the total recommended in the Wellesley Institute’s 2006 Blueprint. The city’s new target of 7,000 rent supplements annually for low-income tenants is well short of the Wellesley Institute’s assessment of 9,750 rent supplements. The painfully low targets mean that the 68,475 households currently on the City of Toronto’s affordable housing waiting list (up almost 2,000 over the past year) face a long wait for a place to call home. Even with a new Charter that guarantees them the right to a new home, they face a 17.9-year-wait for that home.
Poor record on affordable homes: The City of Toronto has approved almost 3,000 new affordable homes using $208 million in federal and provincial funding since 2004, according to the Affordable Housing Office (as of February 2009). This represents an average approval of less than 750 homes per year.
• 919 completed or under construction for 2008;
• 756 under construction or in development for 2009;
• 1,579 in development for 2010.
A Charter is great, but people can’t live in a Charter: A complete housing plan needs an implementation strategy that includes targets and timelines, funding, legislation, programs and services to meet the range of housing needs in Toronto. And the plan needs a public evaluation and accountability process to measure progress and fine-tune the key elements over time.
Immediate actions: Here are some immediate steps that the city can take to ensure all Torontonians have a good, healthy and affordable place to call home:
* Inclusionary housing: The City of Toronto should adopt a detailed inclusionary housing (zoning) strategy – following the lead of literally hundreds of U.S. cities – and tie the new housing policies to the Transit City plan, which will add thousands of new, affordable homes throughout the city.
* Top up existing housing fund: Add $25 million to the almost depleted Capital Revolving Reserve Fund, which would not only help to fund several hundred new truly affordable homes, but would also send a strong signal to the provincial and federal governments that they also need to ramp up their investments in new homes.
* Target s37 bonus dollars: Ensure that the bonus dollars collected by the City of Toronto as a result of negotiations under section 37 of the Planning Act are directed to affordable housing as a first priority.
Enormous costs in “doing nothing”: Toronto has the highest housing costs in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Research from the Wellesley Institute and others shows that housing insecurity and homelessness leads to poor health, disrupts neighbourhoods and puts a damper on the economy. The status quo – in which tens of thousands of Torontonians experience homelessness and hundreds of thousands of households are precariously housed – is simply not acceptable. Toronto is the richest city in one of the richest countries in the world. Affordable housing solutions cost much less than “doing nothing”.