Olivia Chow has made housing a central plank of her mayoral campaign. She has promised to bring to council a proposal for inclusionary housing that would require 20 per cent of units in new residential towers to be affordable. Council would have to define affordability, and Chow’s goal of 15,000 new affordable units is highly ambitious. But Chow is the only major candidate advocating for hard targets on new affordable housing.
Chow has also pledged to help revitalize 1,200 apartment towers by allowing commercial development and encouraging the creation of public space. Much of this is already being implemented by City staff, so it’s unclear what new resources or ideas, if any, Chow is proposing.
Chow has said she would press the provincial and federal governments for more funding. Specifically, she says the province should restore affordable housing funding to pre-1998 levels (before the provincial Conservatives under Mike Harris downloaded $905 million in public housing costs to municipalities).
On Toronto Community Housing, Chow says tenants should have more say over their own dwellings. She wants to implement a “tenant- and community-driven approach” to seniors housing as a pilot project, although she has not said what, precisely, this initiative might entail. Like the other major candidates, Chow says she will ask the provincial and federal governments for help addressing TCHC’s massive housing backlog.
Doug Ford has several credibility issues when it comes to his positions on housing and, particularly, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Ford takes credit for visiting “thousands” of TCHC units during his tenure. This claim is ludicrous, but more importantly, Ford cited it in response to a question about the declining state of repair at TCHC properties. Ford has failed to explain why the repair backlog has grown by $220 million during the past three years under his brother’s administration to $860 million.
During his term as Ward 2 (Etobicoke North) councillor, Ford was filmed handing out $20 bills to TCHC residents, presumably to secure political support. Such blatantly inappropriate behaviour from a public official has, sadly, paled in comparison to other controversies involving the Ford brothers, but it must be noted. Ford has also said he would like to bring back former TCHC head Gene Jones, who was fired in April after a report by the City ombudsman found he had violated the organization’s policies and presided over a “culture of fear.”
While Ford continues to offer platitudes about saving TCHC and its residents, his website does not mention housing as a policy priority. During Rob Ford’s tenure (for which Doug now claims much credit), the waiting list for public housing grew by nearly 30,000 residents and, according to housing advocate Michael Shapcott, funding decreased by $250 million.
Doug Ford’s actions have also raised doubts as to whether he supports the right of all people in Toronto to have access to housing. In May, he suggested that a residence in Ward 2 for children with autism had “ruined the community.” Ford even mused about buying the house himself to take control away from the operators.
John Tory has said he wants to speed up City contributions to Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s crippling repair backlog, but hasn’t pledged any new funding. Tory held a major press conference on housing to announce funding for TCHC that the City has already promised to spend.
Tory has expressed a desire that city council set a target for new affordable housing units, although he has not proposed one himself. His website contains five separate sections on transit planning, but not a single one on housing.
Like his opponents, Tory says he will ask the provincial and federal governments for more housing funds. But he has also said that, unlike his opponents, he can leverage good working relationships with Queen’s Park and Ottawa to secure extra funds. This claim is dubious, but it forms part of a broader narrative that suggests Tory’s personal relationships are critical to the growth and well-being of the city.
Tory has proven himself capable of pointing out the shortcomings of Rob Ford’s housing policies, but he has yet to propose any specific alternatives of his own.