Who will be the legendary defender for Toronto's social housing needs?
Canadian mayors are banding together to make the case for increased investment in housing, reports the Toronto Star. The move comes in the midst of declining federal funds for affordable housing, a trend that, in the absence of a national housing strategy, is scheduled to continue for the next 15 years.
Social housing, like Toronto Community Housing, is at a crisis point. With the oldest social housing units in Canada, record-long waitlists, and crumbling buildings, TCH is in desperate need of capital funding from the provincial and federal orders of government. The City of Toronto has repeatedly requested almost $900 million from both the provincial and federal government to address TCH’s $2.7 billion repair backlog, but they have not come through with the funding.
The move to join forces with other Canadian cities to call for increased funding makes a lot of sense. Toronto is the canary in the coal mine for social housing issues across the country—its housing stock was built up about 10 years before other major Canadian cities—but on its own, investing in Canada’s largest city doesn’t offer a big political win for the feds.
It’s also time to repackage the effort to secure the funding TCH needs. For three years, the City has tried on its own to persuade other orders of government that matching Toronto’s contribution to TCH’s capital repair backlog was a good investment and represented fiscal fairness. Toronto’s previous city manager, Joe Pennachetti, was fond of pointing out that no other developed city in the world funds social housing of this size solely from its property tax base.
While putting together a Voltron of mayors to make noise about affordable housing is good, Toronto can blame other orders of government for only so long. Thousands of TCH units will be condemned in the coming years due to a lack of repairs—and there’s no existing plan for where all those tenants would go—so there’s an urgent need to get these repairs done now. The surest way to do so isn’t to ask someone else, but for the City to raise the money itself.
Of course, that would mean significantly raising property taxes or implementing a meaningful new revenue tool. Let’s hope that if it’s needed, the concerted effort to fund social housing doesn’t stop at asking other orders of government to solve the problem, even if they should wear a great deal of the blame.