Toronto has significant, and worsening, health inequities. Wellesley Institute research shows that social factors such as housing, income, education, and access to social supports, are vital for individual and community health as well as Canada’s economic growth. Eliminating inequities in the social determinants of health must be our priority.
We can build a future in which everyone in Toronto has the opportunities and resources they need to have a healthy home. Healthy housing must be affordable, as people spending more than 30% of their income on housing means significant stress on their resources. Healthy housing must also be safe, of good quality, stable, and include supports for those who need it.
Currently, the disparities amongst Toronto residents on this social determinant of health are significant and devastating. Those who cannot access and afford the housing they need are more likely to be from traditionally disadvantaged groups.
We look forward to more details on City Council’s December 14th, 2022 direction to staff to create a Housing Action Plan. The motion’s call for more housing in Toronto is desperately needed. Planning to grow and expand non-profit and co-op homes is wise, as is expanding the current Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition program. Public data and democratic accountability are key and we commend Council for requesting a publicly available database to track affordable rental units, acknowledging the right to adequate housing.
This motion demonstrates a large ambition—285,000 homes will change our city and our housing market. But the larger the program, the larger the need to ensure any actions taken improve, rather than exacerbate, health inequities. Torontonians who will get sick more often and longer, and die younger, cannot afford to wait. We all deserve to reap the benefits of a stronger, fairer society and economy built around including everyone in living a thriving, healthy life. The City should complete a full and public Health Equity Impact Assessment and assess all its work through how health and health equity can be improved. This should cover all the social determinants of health and include robust community engagement.
Additionally, these specific proposed bylaw, policy, and program changes raise specific questions that the City should examine immediately. This must include potentially affected communities, and it must consider all aspects of what the City proposes and the effects those changes may have.
Possible questions specific to housing this assessment should address include:
- How many of these homes will be affordable to those in core housing need? How many will be for those currently experiencing homelessness? How many will give residents access to transit, affordable healthy food, green spaces, social spaces, services, and supports?
- Who will profit from building these homes? How will that affect Toronto’s economy and how might it affect income and wealth inequality?
- Who will build these homes? Will that workforce be, as it has been historically, heavily white and male? What workforce strategy will be in place to ensure enough workers can support the plan and that they will be representative of and build up diverse communities?
- What will this proposal mean for Toronto’s ability to meet its obligation to end chronic homelessness in the near term? What about the longer term need to ensure every Torontonian has a home that is affordable, adequate, and healthy? Will building these homes draw money, attention, labour, infrastructure, and other resources away from this crucial goal?
- Who will live in these homes? What economic strata will they be from, and what race will they be?
- Will these homes be accessible, high quality, and healthy?
- What effects will these homes have on existing neighbourhoods with equity seeking populations?
Leaving these questions unanswered and hoping for the best will hurt Torontonians who can least afford it. Answering these, and more, in consultation with community leaders and the communities they serve, is essential to ensuring this work makes Toronto stronger and more equitable now, tomorrow, and in the future.
Many inequitable impacts are unintentional but refusing to complete a Health Equity Impact Assessment is an active choice. We hope we can look forward to clear and public answers to the questions above, and other potential impacts, before these changes are approved, as well as the results of a complete Health Equity Impact Assessment.