Affordable housing must become a municipal election issue

With the Toronto City Council elections approaching in October, the issue of affordable housing will be front and centre. What is the current situation and what potential solutions are there? Read the full article below to gain more insight!

Full Article

With the Toronto City Council elections approaching in October, the issue of affordable housing will be front and centre. And for good reason: Torontonians live in an increasingly unaffordable city.

While there’s no silver bullet that can fix the housing issue, Toronto would do well to get the provincial government back at the table to oversee social housing.

Back in the early 1990s, Premier Mike Harris cooked up an ill-advised and short-sighted social experiment to deregulate private housing and kill off Ontario’s vibrant social housing sector. As such, renters started to shell out more money for less and a new generation of homeless individuals was created.

Today, Toronto holds the dubious title of most expensive rental market in Canada when it comes to one-bedroom apartments. It’s widely recommended that roughly 30 per cent of an individual’s income (at most) should go towards housing. And in many places in Canada, that’s true: Halifax, Regina, Edmonton, Quebec City.

In Toronto, however, some people spend a staggering 72 per cent of their income on housing, leaving almost everyone “house poor.” In some respects though, they’re the lucky ones; most non-white collar workers are simply pushed out of the city, which in turns creates endlessly long commutes and keeps individuals away from much needed social resources.

At the crux of the issue is the fact Ontario is the only province in Canada that isn’t in charge of social housing. When Premier Harris set the rental market on fire before sheepishly walking away, it meant social housing would fall under the purview of the City of Toronto.

Of course, municipal governments have the least amount of money in Canada as compared to the provincial or federal governments. As it stands now, there are only a few revenue sources for the city. What about a congestion fee? Tory already went to the province with this idea and was swiftly rejected.

When Ontario broke from overseeing social housing, Toronto was left to fend for itself and unfortunately, it didn’t; it rotted and is now festering. For the last 30 years, Toronto has done basically nothing on the issue. Maintenance of social housing has taken a nosedive with over 3,500 units sitting derelict due a lack of repairs.

Pressure is now mounting on the city to house people as the supply can’t keep pace with the demand. Instead of reintegrating the province back into the fold, Torontonians get condos instead, many of which are treated like an investment commodity, sitting empty, and largely unaffordable to the average person. Obviously, this is not a solution.

Furthermore, with the demand for housing being white hot, young people are unable to afford to buy anything and climb the property ladder, leaving them as lifelong renters, which in turn, further exacerbates the already strained rental market.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you look at Vienna, Austria, by all accounts, a booming metropolis, they don’t have a housing crisis at all. That’s because nearly 80 per cent of the rental market is owned and operated by the government, ensuring fair access, rent control, and occupancy restrictions.

Under Premier Ford, sadly, it’s unlikely that Ontario will pick up the reigns of social housing again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t push city council candidates to vow to make affordable housing a cornerstone of their campaigns.

At the very least, the city council could incentive developers to build rental apartments. Such measures are as simple as reducing development fees, reducing charges for building supplies, and most importantly, rezoning parts of the city.

It’s apparent Toronto needs to build up, not out. Unfortunately, most of the city is zoned as low-density. Toronto is in desperate need of more highrise apartments and, at the very least, more midrise apartments.

The days of having a central neighbourhood, say the Annex, be home to massive Victorian houses with occupancy rates of one or two people per house, is illogical. Unless we push Toronto City Council candidates to take decisive action on the housing crisis, Toronto will continue to an unequal and unaffordable city.

Original Article here.

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