Toronto City Council’s Executive Committee meets on Jan. 24th to consider an unprecedented recommendation from Toronto Community Housing Company (TCHC) to sell-off 675 buildings that include 740 affordable homes. The scheme comes at a time when Toronto’s affordable housing wait list sets new records month after month, and the vacancy rate in the private rental sector is dropping sharply. TCHC says that it needs the cash to pay for a huge capital shortfall created by the federal and provincial governments when they downloaded social housing stock to the city a decade ago. TCHC’s fiscal woes got worse earlier this week when Toronto City Council approved a 2012 operating budget that includes a $6 million cut to the city subsidy to the affordable housing agency.
TCHC provides a home to more than 164,000 Torontonians, among the poorest and most vulnerable households in the city. Research by the Wellesley Institute and others demonstrates the clear links between good housing and good health. Poor housing is linked to increased illness and premature death, while a good homes provides a stable base for health lives and strong communities. TCHC recognizes as part of its mission the priority of working to “build healthy communities.”
A Wellesley Institute backgrounder in December sets out Seven Things You Need To Know about the health, social and financial impacts of selling off TCHC homes. The backgrounder sets out the dollars and cents, and proposes practical options.
The Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canada sets out recent research on the links between housing and health, and provides detailed research and policy analysis about housing at the federal and provincial levels.
Four former Toronto Mayors – David Crombie, John Sewell, Art Eggleton and Barbara Hall – have all written to oppose the sell-off of TCHC homes. Barbara Hall is Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and, in her letter, warns that the sell-off of the properties could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The proposal at Executive Committee exempts 18 TCHC homes that are managed by supportive housing agencies for people with special physical or mental health needs. The TCHC board had originally recommended that these homes be sold off, as well.
At the end of December, Toronto’s affordable housing wait list stood at an all-time record of 82,138 households. That’s a staggering 23 percent increase from the start of the 2008 recession, and a 7.3 percent increase in one-year alone from December of 2010. The affordable housing wait list includes low-income households that want to get into TCHC housing and other affordable housing providers. The list has been setting new records every month since 2007 – a clear signal of the urgent need for new affordable housing.
In December, only 280 households were housed off the list. At that rate, it will be almost 24 years by the time a household that signed up in December of 2011 is offered a place to call home.
Reducing the TCHC stock by selling off 740 homes will make an already painfully long wait for an affordable home even longer. The sell-off proposal includes a commitment that all the households that lose their homes will be re-housed in other affordable housing.
TCHC staff estimate that the housing company faced a $650 million capital funding shortfall in 2010, and that number could rise by $100 million annually. The funding shortfall was created by the federal and provincial governments when they downloaded former Ontario Housing Corporation housing projects and other stock to the city without adequate maintenance reserves. TCHC has received some capital repair dollars from the Ontario government following its 2008 budget, and from the federal government following its 2009 budget, but the amounts received were far less than the funding shortfall created by those governments.
TCHC has invested in energy conservation projects in recent years, and reaped substantial savings; but staff say that the cash-flow from its revenues is constrained. Almost all of its tenants are low or very-low income households, and their rents are set using formulas created by the provincial government. TCHC receives subsidies from the federal, provincial and municipal governments, but all three levels of government have cut their affordable housing investments.