Advocates Say Housing Budget Provides Only Limited Relief
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Advocates Say Housing Budget Provides Only Limited Relief

New funds for emergency shelter use are welcome, but there are large funding gaps for existing and new affordable housing

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Photo by My TVC 15, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Housing advocates are welcoming the City’s new investments in emergency homeless shelters, even as they insist Toronto’s housing crisis demands more comprehensive solutions. The 2015 budget for housing and homelessness includes $7.9 million to fund 181 new shelter beds, 52 of which will be designated for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or two-spirit (LGBTQ2S). New funds will also go toward maintaining and repairing 16 City-owned shelters and acquiring properties along George Street as part of the revitalization of the Seaton House men’s shelter.

John Clarke of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty says the budget does mark an improvement from those of the previous administration. “We’re dealing with some significant concessions that are going to make a significant difference to at least survivability for people who are homeless,” Clarke told Torontoist in a phone interview. However, he’s not convinced council’s new direction under Mayor John Tory will be enough.

In response to city manager Joe Penachetti’s remarks this week that the 2015 budget generally maintains the “status quo” on the housing file, Clarke said, “The continued status quo means, at present, very close to 170,000 people on the waiting list for housing, and it means Toronto Community Housing units being boarded up, because their lack of repair has reduced them to a level where they’re not habitable.”

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, a housing activist and lead researcher for Homeless Hub, an online resource centre, agrees: “The status quo just isn’t good enough,” she said during a phone interview. “We need to think about how we’re going to get people housed, whether it’s rent supplements or income supports, or whether it’s actually building new affordable housing.” Gulliver-Garcia did praise the “amazing” introduction of LGBTQ2S shelter spaces: “We know that at least 25 to 40 per cent of homeless youth are from the LGBTQ2S community … shelters are only going to be that band-aid, but it’s a good and necessary band-aid to have right now.”

City councillor James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), who chairs the City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee, said during a phone interview that additional shelter spaces address only some of Toronto’s overall housing challenges. “We must have a frank and honest discussion about mental health, and about addiction and substance abuse,” Pasternak said. He has asked staff to report on appropriate interventions in these areas in March. Pasternak also lauded new investments for 24-hour women’s drop-in spaces, which were previously approved but not funded by council.

Pasternak added that even as the City struggles to build new affordable housing, it can provide relief in the interim with more rental subsidies for private units. “They’re relatively easy to get going, they help people in a mixed housing environment, and we don’t have to wait 10 years for a building to be open for occupancy,” said Pasternak. He was more cautious about the idea of inclusionary zoning, which would mandate affordable units in all new residential developments. “We have to look at that, but you’ve got to make it appealing for private sector builders to come forward.”

Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport), who serves on the CD&R Committee and has led a number of recent housing initiatives, notes that the City is partnering with other organizations to address the need for new affordable housing units. “In 2015, we’re leveraging $205 million in private and non-private sectors from the $123 million we receive [from the provincial and federal governments],” Bailão said during a phone interview. She also expressed enthusiasm for new legislative tools, including inclusionary
zoning. “I’ve been elected twice, and I’ve always campaigned on it.”

Bailão says she’s monitoring a private member’s bill from Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo that would allow municipalities to use inclusionary zoning. While she and Pasternak emphasize different approaches on the housing file, they seem to agree on the need for more resources. According to Pasternak, “The need is real, and the current budget does not really address it.”