Now is the Time to Move Forward on Housing
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Now is the Time to Move Forward on Housing

Councillor Ana Bailão on National Housing Day, the Toronto Housing Summit, and why governments must work together.

This National Housing Day we have an opportunity for the first time in more than a generation to change direction and move forward with positive actions and a people-focused approach to take action on housing and improve housing for all Torontonians.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen a lot of change across all three orders of government. We now have a new federal government that is focusing on housing and is developing a national housing strategy. The provincial government has updated its long-term affordable housing strategy with a commitment to inclusionary zoning and gives us greater flexibility to manage social housing. And, following a tumultuous previous term of council, the City is, in my view, making social and affordable housing more of a priority than any previous term of council since amalgamation.

We are coming off the heels of the Toronto Housing Summit, which increased awareness and enabled important conversations between government, housing stakeholders, advocates, and tenants. And today, we will be learning what the federal government heard from Canadians through their national housing strategy consultations.

We must look across the housing spectrum to provide relief and more opportunities. We need to innovate, build more social, supportive, affordable, and co-op housing, and at the same time revitalize our existing housing stock to improve living conditions for some of our most vulnerable residents.

The City cannot do this alone and it will be crucial that we continue moving forward with the full implementation of Toronto Community Housing’s 10-year $2.6-billion capital plan. We are now finishing year three of this comprehensive plan and have budgeted to spend $250 million on capital repairs—more than ever before.

This much-needed City funding is going towards fixing our aging buildings and improving living conditions for thousands of residents.

The mayor’s task force on Toronto Community Housing delivered its much anticipated final report earlier this year. As a direct result, the City is developing a way forward so that Canada’s largest social housing provider can put its tenants first and modernize the way the organization operates.

This will also be an opportunity to strengthen the non-profit housing sector and transform Toronto Community Housing in a more sustainable organization. I look forward to the next steps of this plan as city council works to live up to our social housing responsibilities that were downloaded by previous provincial governments.

Toronto’s rental vacancy rate is an extremely low 1.6 per cent and for that reason we must look at different ways to increase our rental housing supply. Earlier this year, city council unanimously passed the Open Door Program [PDF]. This innovative program is expected to provide over $250 million in incentives over the next five years to meet Toronto’s affordable housing targets. Through this program, we will fast-track the planning approvals process for affordable rental and ownership developments.

The City will also be putting to tender 15 surplus City-owned sites, collectively worth over $100 million, to build more affordable housing. As we move forward with this program, we must continue to challenge our provincial and federal partners to do the same so that we can create more housing opportunities for our residents. Low-cost federal loans and grants can also have the potential to help non-profit housing providers leverage their existing assets and create more affordable housing.

It is also important to keep in mind that almost all of the approximately 90,000 households on the social-housing wait list are already housed but live in unsuitable and/or unaffordable conditions. Through funding from the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program, we recently created 550 new housing allowances worth $250 per month to households on the waiting list with some of the greatest need.

We must pursue more opportunities to provide support for our residents who have, frankly, been on the list for far too long. In fact, a recent affordable ownership development had five per cent of purchasers come from the City’s social housing waiting list. These purchasers received down-payment assistance support through the City’s Home Ownership Assistance Program in conjunction with IAH program funding and created an opportunity that some may not have previously considered.

Just last week, my colleague Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and I advanced the dialogue around laneway suites, which have the potential to help increase our housing supply in a responsible, sustainable manner and provide additional rental opportunities in walkable, transit-accessible neighbourhoods.

They can reshape our thinking about secondary suites, looking beyond the traditional basement apartment as a way to provide extra income or as a place for adult children, empty nesters, and caretakers to live closer to family support networks. I encourage you to provide your comments and feedback on laneway suites by filling out our survey here.

Housing can be the solution to many of the challenges we face in our society. It is essential to the prosperity of our city and central to the values of our residents.

Everyone, including all levels of government, developers, non-profits, labour, activists, and residents have a role to play in this effort. As part of the upcoming national housing strategy I will be keenly looking for not only funding but the ability to foster innovation and nurture a culture shift in the way we think about housing.

If we do not take advantage of this alignment, we will have missed a huge opportunity. We must not be afraid to challenge our assumptions, change the way we do things, find more ways to get to yes, and move forward.

Ana Bailão is the chair of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Committee and the city councillor for Ward 18, Davenport.