Town Hall on Housing, March 29, 2017
Opening remarks from Arif Virani, MP: Housing, its affordability, and availability is a critical issue:
- The waitlist for affordable housing with TCHC is over 90,000 applications deep;
- The repair backlog for TCHC units is in the billions of dollars, market prices for housing are soaring – particularly in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver;
- Some landlords are jeopardizing housing for the most vulnerable people in our community.
Housing was a key platform commitment for the Liberal Party in the 2015 election. Last year, the government committed $2.3B over 2 years to housing.
Over the past year, we have heard from constituents and community organizations about the need to do more. We raised these concerns in national caucus to the PM and Minister of Finance. The government has responded in Budget 2017, to actively work to address the housing crisis.
Budget 2017 dedicated an additional $11.2B to housing in addition to the money allocated in last year’s budget. This will allow the government to implement the National Housing Strategy.
Arif introduced special guest Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina-Fort York and Parliamentary Secretary for Housing. Adam has extensive experience in [public] housing policy, and previously served on Toronto City Council. He is also the Chair of the Homelessness Advisory Committee and holds the housing and urban affairs portfolio in Parliament.
Remarks from Adam Vaughan:
- Adam Vaughan ran because of Trudeau’s promise to resuscitate housing and investment in neighbourhoods.
- Adam advocates for an urban model because 85% of our population reside in cities. He supports the platform the government delivered in this year’s budget.
- The National Housing Strategy comprises of $4.8B that’s currently being invested now and the $11.2B in new investment from Budget 2017. There has never been a federal government in Canada that has delivered this much to housing. This is a historic investment, and an extraordinary program and commitment. The program deals with various issues ranging from homelessness to affordable home ownership.
- There are additional dollars assigned for housing in Indigenous communities, infrastructure investment, seniors, veterans, and low-interest loans for affordable home ownership.
- With that additional funding, the total amounts to $25B for housing over the next 10 years.
The National Housing Strategy disseminates funding to different groups. It aims to get people out of the streets and tackle homelessness, as well as mental health problems, and addiction issues that often accompany homelessness. With chronically homeless people, government policy must deal both with the medical issues people are experiencing, as well as provide stable housing to improve their situation, so there’s also funding in place for mental health treatment and support. These are integrative programs for people in supportive housing, for the first time in Canada’s history. This way we not only get people out of the streets, but we also treat illnesses.
Social and affordable housing are the main aspects of the housing strategy. The funding will go into supportive, affordable, and social housing. Tenants will renew their agreements, and instead of getting the rental subsidy for the unit they live in, they will get the subsidy which allows them to change their unit, depending on the needs, i.e. work, school, doctor’s location.
For people who rent and want to buy – approximately 50% of all renters, the government is looking into low-income mortgage models by engaging private investors who will buy 20% of the house.
The issue of affordability doesn’t stop at housing only. Transportation plays a key role. We have increased the Guaranteed Income Support, Canada Child Benefit (especially beneficial for middle-income families) increased the OAS by 10% for seniors while lowering the eligibility age back down to 65, and made changes to EI to support people who lost their jobs with going back to school.
This is a comprehensive, multi-dimensional income support system to help lift people out of poverty.
Q. How can we address the issue of housing being a federal or provincial issue, with no one being responsible?
A. Our 10-year program is a programmatic response, steady and dependable, year after year. It is going to be implemented through our partnership with all three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal. Housing only constitutes 20% of needs but does not address the whole spectrum of other issues (e.g. with homelessness). We need to make sure that the low-income population gets a chance at home ownership.
Q. Are you prepared to release some of the federal lands for affordable housing? Are you preparing co-op housing to ownership model?
A. Surplus federal land is being designated to create affordable housing, with $202 million designated to help implement this commitment. The affordable housing benefit will be based on income. Co-op units are important models; we don’t want to have them disappear. Renting to own is preferable rather than having the units disappear – it’s all about creating affordable housing. It is about action.
We have good partners in the city – the Toronto City Mayor and Anna Bailão, as well as our provincial counterparts. State of good repair wasn’t even possible under the previous government and their low level of federal funding.
Q. Specific housing units, why are none being built by the federal government?
A. Under our system of government, the federal level doesn’t build housing. We partner with the provinces and cities, whose jurisdiction this falls under, and the city builds housing units.
Q. There has been much talk about housing, but if people are not receiving housing fast enough, they get upset. Why is there a delay in spending money?
A. The investment is built to ensure 10% is spent per year over the next 10 years. The TCHC does not have the capacity to spend the full 10-year investment in one bulk amount on the needed repairs. TCHC only has the capacity to spend $1B per year. The current repair costs for the City of Toronto is $2B. If we gave them all the money all up front, it would sit in the bank unspent. We consulted with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and this is what they asked for – steady investment over the next 10 years so that it’s predictable and plans can be made well in advance.
Q. Ultimate responsibility for housing in Ontario is with municipalities. What safeguards can be put in place in order to make sure that the funds are not sitting in the bank accounts unspent?
A. We have agreements in place to make sure that the money is spent. The local Ward 14 councillor Gord Perks is committed to housing. The job of residents is to hold politicians accountable, making sure that they are committed to affordable housing.
We also just signed a new health accord – the program guarantees a reduction in the mental health services wait times for people under 25 because of the unprecedented commitment of $1.9 billion to Ontario for mental health.
Q. How does the money assigned for housing translate into the waitlist reduction for the Toronto Community Housing? Wouldn’t financial promises that the federal government is making right now change with the change of the government in 2019?
A. Once we sign the commitment, it’s locked in for the next 10 years, as a contractual agreement with provinces and territories to bind future federal governments.
Q. How can you comment on the Condo bubble in TO, and what about introducing the foreign buyers’ tax here?
A. People who are driving up the cost of housing in the real estate market are people who are flipping houses, and people speculating on the prices. There’s not much research about the benefits or outcome of the Vancouver real estate tax model (for foreign buyers). The problem is not necessarily foreign buyers, the problem is ensuring people are able to obtain housing and occupy units, and not leaving them vacant.
To be able to take in newcomers and increase immigration, we need to be able to house people. Currently, we cannot build units fast enough (in urban centres) to be able to significantly increase the number of refugees and immigrants we are accepting.
We need more information and studies to properly understand the situation before the appropriate action can be made – Budget 2017 will allocate $241 million to data collection and analysis of the housing crisis.
Q. What can you do to reduce wait times?
A. Units still need to be built. The plan will address chronic homelessness and the need to increase affordable home ownership. TCHC and the City of Toronto are in control of how the funds are delivered.
Q. What are the financing options for non-profit models?
A. Dynamic partnerships works better, like with the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust. Community organizations are the ones that can make a difference in the delivery of programs on the ground level. We must come up with innovative ways to house people. For example, the Metis people’s can partnership with the municipal government to build housing. We need to implement the community investment funding to acquire land, and then drive savings to the units through retrofitting.
Q. How many people, living in affordable housing, are at risk of losing their affordable housing and at what cost?
A. We need to prevent tragedies and situations where young people, who lose their affordable housing, end up on the streets. We know that homelessness is often accompanied by severe health problems and addiction issues.
Q. We expect a lot from you and you should come up with a Strategy that should be there for 40 years not just 10.
A. Mixed-income neighbourhoods are the best strategy when building neighbourhoods, as opposed to segregating rich and poor.
Challenges with repairs – private and public landlords need to be held accountable when they are not repairing units. Affordable subsidies alone are not enough. We need a mix: co-operative housing, supplemental and supportive housing.
Q. How many units will be built?
A. Unfortunately, we don’t have the estimates. We don’t yet know how the agreement with the provinces will go. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) can provide models for the data, rent supplements, partnerships and construction. For example, in Northern provinces, the $300 million investment will provide housing for approximately 3,000 families.
Q. How do you compare money for housing to money for refugees?
A. When the refugees hit seven years in Canada, they actually pay more taxes and contribute more to the economy than they receive. Yes, we do provide support upfront, but refugees and newcomers repay it back and more. They drive resources into the housing market and they also buy the real estate. Without refugees our economy would shrink significantly.
Comment: For the first time housing is on the government’s agenda. It’s on the front page of the news. The federal government in the 90s pulled out of the housing and province followed suit. What’s incumbent on all of us is a co-share the program: talk to MPs, MPPs, and city councillors. It took a long time to put it back on the agenda. Co-operatively – provinces and territories need to match funding.
A. The provinces and territories and municipalities have to come up with their share of the funding, and we all must hold them accountable for investing it.
Arif Virani concluded that he heard from a lot of constituents and many today have spoken about the wait list and the repair backlog of TCHC. Many also reiterated the goal that the time for waiting is over, and the need to act is now. Arif committed to transmitting this message to Minister Duclos along with a summary of the town hall notes. Arif indicated this is just the beginning of a broader discussion on tackling homelessness and implementing the National Housing Strategy.