Toronto’s ailing public housing portfolio is one step closer to receiving concrete financial support, with the creation of a multilateral government framework that pledges to preserve, repair and regenerate social housing across the country.
“Toronto, for all the reasons that we know, heavily invested in community housing many years ago and with the disengagement of the federal government it found itself lacking the resources that it needed to look after the existing housing stock and to build more of the community housing that we need,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, after a news conference at the InterContinental Hotel on Monday.
“Eventually we just decided to change course and recognize that the federal government had a responsibly to look after the existing housing stock, as well as support the construction of new community housing.”
The 10-year, $40-billion National Housing Strategy was announced in November, building on Ottawa’s $11.2 billion budget commitment in March 2017. The strategy aims to lift 530,000 families out of unaffordable and substandard housing and reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.
Monday’s multilateral agreement lays out the broad cost-sharing commitment between the federal, provincial and territorial governments and a deal to consult, share information and assume “mutual accountability” after a range of housing plans are implemented and the money is spent. Provinces and territories will match federal funds through several measures, including a $4.3 billion Canada Community Housing Initiative.
The exact details of those investments will be hashed out over the coming months.
The plan also outlines the basis for bilateral arrangements that will include terms on the preservation, regeneration and expansion of social housing — which includes co-ops and non-profit housing — including units dedicated for Indigenous people, support for repairs and the design and implementation of a portable housing benefit. Federal targets include a 15 per cent expansion of social housing units and support of at least 300,000 households through the housing benefit.
Toronto Community Housing is Canada’s largest landlord, managing more than 60,000 units with an estimated 110,000 tenants. The housing provider is facing a $2.6 billion repair backlog. When that capital plan was approved in 2013, city council pledged to handle one-third of the cost. Council was counting on the provincial and federal governments to each step in and cover a third, but neither level of government has committed to those funds.
Despite broad federal promises of an influx of cash, the city has been forced to create an interim strategy to cover repair costs for crumbling TCH units until 2020, at which point the city runs out of funding for the plan. Without more money, thousands of units are slated for closure. Duclos said social housing needs identified by all levels of government were taken into account during development of the overall strategy
In Toronto, the active wait-list for affordable housing hit almost 92,500 households in late 2017, according to city data.
Pedro Barata, vice-president, United Way Greater Toronto, said the portable housing benefit is a critically important piece of a plan designed to get all Canadians into safe and decent housing, while the details of repairs and new construction are being worked out.
“It recognizes that we are not going to build our way out of this and that we can begin to provide support for households that are in greatest need,” said Barata.
Greg Suttor, a senior researcher at the Wellesley Institute, described the federal commitments and targets on repairs and expansion as “very promising,” and also praised Ottawa’s strong support for the portable housing benefit.
The public needs to see clear federal-provincial agreements, detailing firm commitments on how the money will be spent and when, said Suttor. One area where Toronto has experienced “huge pressure on its budget” is through covering rent subsidies in social housing, including Toronto Community Housing, he added.