4:00 p.m., July 10, 2012
Special Housing Working Group
Toronto Reference Library

We tend to become nostalgic for times when it seems our dreams could come true.    Those of us who have been advocating for generations for safe, affordable housing for all can look back to the times of the UN Habitat 1 in Vancouver and Habitat 2 in Istanbul when Canada took a lead on the world stage in successfully supporting the idea of housing as a human right.   We can remember David Crombie, then the mayor of Toronto, flying to Ottawa at the last minute to successfully arguing with CMHC to support the funding of Don Area Co-operative Homes.    We remember better times.

We also remember bad times.   We remember the ending of affordable housing programmes, the slashing of welfare rates and the return to the Victorian concept of making distinctions between deserving and undeserving poor.    Perhaps more seriously we saw the end of the concept of long term planning in social policy. The time when elected members of the Liberal, NDP and Progressive Conservative parties found ways to put aside temporary partisan concerns and attempted to find solutions to problems that would last beyond an election cycle has faded.

The selling off of Toronto social housing stock is a short term solution to a long term problem.    Money is needed to repair social housing stock.   And the selling of houses in desirable neighbourhoods would bring in a welcome burst of cash.   But the problem of insufficient resources to ensure the ongoing viability of social housing stock won’t be addressed.   Underfunding of long-term replacement reserves and the continued need to defer routine maintenance in order to respond to more serious problems will continue.

The terms of the proposed sale are themselves problematic and make access to affordable housing a little more difficult.    Selling the housing at market and not at the accessed value continues the pressure to drive up the price of home ownership in Toronto, making it more difficult for middle income households to afford to put a home in Toronto.     We lose affordable housing stock while making home ownership a less viable dream for many.

There are some creative solutions being proposed that would keep the detached houses that are to be sold as affordable housing—-I am particularly impressed by the land trust model proposed by the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto.  But while these efforts will preserve the affordable nature of the social housing under discussion, such sales will not guarantee the long term viability of the affordable housing that the City of Toronto is the stewards of.   Such sales will not address the problems that will come at the end of the operating agreements with the end of many subsidy programmes.   They will not address the need to massively retrofit or tear down and rebuild high rise communities.    They will not even address the need to solve insect infestations and leaking taps 10 years from now.

In conservative times it is hard to raise the reality of more funds must come from the government, but it is dishonest not to do so.  Our shared resources are needed to kick start redevelopment initiatives such as has happened at Regent Park, to properly fund replacement reserves and other long term capital expenditures, and even to meet the maintenance expectations of the Residential Tenancy Act.   Our shared resources are needed to provide the subsidies for low income residents, to provide personal supports so that people can live independently and for the community supports so that social housing is not only affordable, but safe and desirable housing.

New affordable housing is important.   Sustaining the existing affordable housing stock is also important.    In order to meet these concerns we need a return to a spirit of co-operation in the political sphere.  It wasn’t all that long ago that NDP, Liberal and Progressive Conservative MPs came together to support the United Farm Workers.   Currently there is an all-party committee looking at ways of supporting co-operatives.   This spirit must find a way into the discussions around the need for ongoing and adequate funding for the provision of safe, secure, decent and affordable housing for all.

We must be honest in our political debates and make it clear that we are asking for housing to be a spending priority of all levels of government.   We are competing with others for a limited pool of resources.   Yet, like health care and education, housing is a universal need and, as Canada has so eloquently argued in the past, a human right.   The state has an obligation to ensure that rights are not an abstraction but are expressed in concrete and measurable ways.    We may have disagreements about the way to fund education and health care but there seems to be universal agreement in Canada that the government plays a central role in ensuring access to proper medical care and to quality education.    Housing should be equally valued and supported.

On the second Tuesday of the month at the Church of the Holy Trinity is a memorial service for homeless people that have died on the streets of Toronto. We must keep these people in mind when we discuss housing.   We also need to keep in mind those that a loss of a job or end of a relationship can mean the loss of a home.   We need to keep in mind those that are inadequately housed or paying a substantial amount of their income for housing.    Affordable housing and supports of all forms are needed—from emergency shelters to shelter allowances to inclusive zoning to in-home support services to mortgage subsidies for new housing initiatives to preserving existing housing stock—for those that are homeless, for those that have resources but can’t find a place they can afford and for those that are at risk of losing their homes.      It is simple to say that the money is the solution, but that is the case.    The selling off of social housing stock to provide funds for other social housing stock is clear evidence of this.    But that doesn’t solve the problem, or even defer it for long.    To ensure there is housing for all we need to reach into our pockets to pay for it.


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