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Faced With a $750 Million Social-Housing Repair Backlog, the City Pleads for Help

A new City campaign aims to persuade higher levels of government to fund social-housing repairs.

Councillor Ana Bailão poses with Doris Power at the launch of “Closing the Housing Gap” on June 24.

The City is launching an advocacy campaign aimed at convincing its provincial and federal counterparts to ante up on funding for a staggering $750 million repair backlog at Toronto’s social-housing provider, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Monday afternoon, Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) held a press conference to launch the program, called “Closing the Housing Gap.”

The City currently receives federal funding for social housing, to the tune of $161 million in 2012, but this amount is set to decrease in coming years. According to the City’s affordable housing spokesperson, Gil Hardy, the federal government downloaded the responsibility for TCHC mortgages to the province, who in turn passed the responsibility on to the City. Once those mortgages are paid off in 2031, the federal funding will expire, leaving the City on the hook for all social-housing upkeep costs.

A little extra money comes from the province, which subsidizes affordable housing for Ontario tenants on social assistance, but the payouts are significantly less for social-housing tenants, as opposed to private-market renters. The City currently pays the difference, at a cost of about $81 million per year. A recently announced $150 million reduction in provincial funding for the City could force Torontonians to foot even more of the bill.

Bailão says this is an issue for all Torontonians, whose service-delivery costs and property taxes increase when residents lack proper housing. “Every Torontonian knows that it’s cheaper to house people properly, instead of having them in hospitals, in shelters, or in prisons,” Bailão said. She added that while new provincial and federal funds are necessary simply to address the repair backlog, the construction of new affordable housing is a long-term necessity.

Sharad Kerur is the executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, which advocates for TCHC’s 164,000 tenants. He described the pressures facing Toronto’s stock of affordable housing. “We have about 70,000 households in Toronto on the wait list for affordable housing,” Kerur said. “On the supply side, we have lost 86,000 rental units in Toronto over the last 10 years. The condominiums that you see going up are servicing the high end of the home-ownership market.”

The City’s campaign is a $20,000 effort to persuade provincial and federal politicians to pay for social housing. The plan is to use everything from posters and postcards to high-level meetings. City staff have also launched a website, and they plan to have a presence at community events. “We look forward to engaging all Torontonians in this effort,” said Bud Pervis, the chair of the TCHC board of directors. “I don’t know a single person who doesn’t believe in what we’re doing here.”

Doris Power has lived in social housing in east Toronto for 44 years. During an interview, she told us she lives in a house that is being being sold to help pay for the repair backlog. (It’s only one of many.) “It’s really affected my health,” said Power, a single parent who raised her children in social housing. “I don’t know what will become of me.”

Bailão and Pervis have sent a letter to Linda Jeffrey, the provincial minister of municipal affairs and housing, asking her to heed the City’s request. The City also hopes to influence other provincial and federal officials.

Provincial and territorial housing ministers are set to meet in Toronto today.

Photo by Desmond Cole/Torontoist.

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