Tag Archives: Housing Policy

Exciting News – CERA receives funding for rights-based seniors eviction prevention initiative

CERA is pleased to announce that we have received support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to develop community based, eviction prevention strategies for seniors. As part of this initiative, we will identify eviction prevention strategies through a senior-driven process in the GTA. Using a collaborative gap analysis, we will gather information about the current needs of seniors; identify service gaps within programs that are already in place to assist senior tenants; identify solutions and strategies to prevent the eviction of senior tenants; provide best practice and policy directives; and identify next steps toward further assisting seniors and preventing evictions.

Stay tuned for exciting updates about this initiative in the coming months!

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The Ontario Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Government of Ontario. We sincerely thank them for their generous support of our work.

Another National Housing Day

It’s November 22nd, 2012. Another National Housing Day.

What do we have to show for it?

We have a federal government that continues to ignore calls for a national housing strategy and that, other than the odd stimulus blip, invests less and less in housing and homelessness programs. Don’t believe what they say about “belt tightening” and sacrifice. The money is there. It’s all about priorities.

We have a provincial government (Ontario) that has a “long term affordable housing strategy” that is free of substance and commitments, and that refuses to set social assistance benefits or the minimum wage at levels that would allow people to afford a good place to live. It is also about to cut a critical social assistance benefit that helps thousands of low income individuals and families get and keep their homes. Yes, Ontario’s finances were hit hard by the recession, but the money is there. Once again, it’s a question of priorities.

We have municipalities that are increasingly responsible for housing needs and associated costs that they are not financially equipped to address – all because higher levels of government refuse to live up to their responsibilities.

We have three levels of government that refuse to take seriously the human right to housing.

Happy National Housing Day.

Should the sell-off be on?

Toronto Community Housing’s planned selloff of 65 single-family homes has had many stops and starts. Last June and again in March, city council approved the sale of these homes. The idea is to take the estimated $24 million in sales and use it to pay down the hefty $750 million repair backlog on many other public housing units.

This June, however, Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, wanted to delay the sale until October, when a special working group presents its plan to deal with TCHC’s 619 other single family homes. After Mayor Rob Ford complained to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Wynne reversed her desire to delay and now the sale is on again.

These homes are in desirable neighbourhoods like High Park and the Beach. This means the middle-class will come buying. It also means the low-income families will be forced out. This is unfortunate. Mixed-income communities are essential to building a healthy Toronto. Indeed, a city-commissioned study reports that low-income segregation can have a negative impact on individuals’ health and education. Much current thought on public housing acknowledges this; TCHC’s big rebuilding projects such as Regent Park and Lawrence-Allen have incorporated the  basic concept of mixed-income neighbourhoods.

When Wynne was asked about her flip-flop, she told reporters she did not intend to undermine the wishes of city council, only to deal with the potential sale once the working group’s report is ready.  She said she preferred to have “one conversation” on the matter. Let’s hope this conversation includes the fact that low-income families have a right to live anywhere in the city, not just in high-rise communities in the inner suburbs or large, isolated social housing complexes.

CERA Presents to Legislative Committee on Province’s Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy

The Province of Ontario released its Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy in late 2010.  Bill 140, Strong Communities Through Affordable Housing Act, 2011, legislation which has passed 2nd reading and is now before the Legislature at the Comittee on Justice Policy, is the implementing legislation for the Housing Strategy.

CERA and the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC) appeared before the Committee on 24 March 2011, to encourage the Committee to adopt a series of amendments to Bill 140 to ensure that it is in keeping with the provinces’ commitments under international human rights law.

CERA provided an overview of the 5 components that Bill 140 must include to ensure it is in compliance with international human rights standards based on what UN human rights bodies and officials have indicated must be in a housing strategy.  SRAC then provided the Committee with an overview of practical amendments that could be made to Bill 140 to integrate the 5 components.   Both the Wellesley Institute and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario submissions were supportive of this approach.

Committee members from all three parties expressed interest in the CERA and SRAC presentations and the suggested amendments.  CERA and SRAC will  work collaboratively with other organizations concerned with housing rights and will continue to press for human rights amendments to Bill 140.  For more on human rights accountability of the province and Bill 140 click here.

CERA’s presentation

Summary of UN Consensus

SRAC’s presentation

Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario presentation

What’s Next for Toronto Community Housing Corporation?

Between fiduciary failings, bad press, and the dissolution of its Board, the public housing company has a decidedly cloudy future.

Let’s say Mayor Ford clears all the provincial legislative hurdles.  Let’s say the city actually privatizes much of the public housing stock.  Let’s say the whole enterprise goes belly up.

What then?

According to current mayoral wisdom, the sell-off of TCHC assets would mean the city relies more heavily on rent supplements to provide affordable housing for 164,000 tenants.  Plus, incoming monies from the sale of buildings could start to provide supplements to 143,000 tenants on the subsidized housing waiting list.  Sounds great!  Except the success of rent supplements relies on a high vacancy rate; when vacancies drop, rents rise, and the city ends up paying more to keep up its end of the bargain.  Guess what?  Toronto vacancies have been dropping for a decade.  According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, there has been a 30% decrease in rental units across the GTA since 2000.  Worse than that, there is no incentive for private developers to build more affordable housing because the condo market is just too lucrative.

If the city sells off its assets, are we ahead of the game or not?  Up till now, there has been no serious dialogue on social housing policy.  To be fair, council has been preoccupied with the fallout of the city auditor’s report and the ensuing fight over the liability of the Board itself.  But now that this has played out, will Mayor Ford or TCHC managing director Case Ootes spend time talking to housing experts?  Will they look at social housing models in other cities?  Even a quick glance shows that a combination of strategies – rent supplements and dedicated affordable housing – yields the most promising results.  It’s not an exact science by any means, but it is an area that requires study, thought, and discussion.

Two Scandals

It gets worse and worse for Toronto Community Housing Corporation.  Just one week after the city auditor revealed inappropriate expenses and egregious lapses in procurement practices, the TCHC executive is a shambles: the civilian board resigned, tenant reps were ousted and CEO Keiko Nakamura, who so far refused to quit, will surely be given the boot by city councilors.

Now, amidst rumours that Mayor Rob Ford has ordered an appraisal of all city housing stock, comes news that Case Ootes will take over as interim managing director.  Ootes, a veteran councilor who retired prior to last fall’s election, is a both long-time Ford ally and critic of social housing in the city.

It’s a poorly-kept secret that Mayor Ford wants to privatize TCHC.

The reasons are obvious.  The city faces a $744 million deficit next year.  TCHC has a $6 billion portfolio.  Selling off even portion of the housing stock will go a long way towards balancing a budget.  Granted, some of the savings would go to rent supplements for low-income households, but those supplements rely on vacancies and, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp, Toronto vacancies are in a decade-long drop.  In fact, University of Toronto professor (and CERA supporter) David Hulchanski says Europe, United States and New Zealand all rely on a mix of public housing and rent supplements.  Toronto itself has 58,700 affordable units and 4,693 supplemented households.

Ford’s mantra of privatization is based on blind ideology, not thoughtful study.  Privatization is deemed less costly for taxpayers and therefore more efficient.  But there is more than one way to gauge efficiency.  TCHC, warts and all, houses some of our most vulnerable citizens –the mentally ill, the working poor, the aged and infirm – and these people are far less likely to be protected in a purely private market, rent supplement or no.

Mayor Ford is blatantly using the TCHC scandal to push forward his simple solutions.  He might eliminate the financial costs but ignore the human cost.  And that will be the real scandal.

Questioning Social Housing Occupancy Rules

The Social Housing Reform Act, provincial legislation that governs the operation of non-profit and government housing, establishes occupancy standards for rent-geared-to-income apartments.

It states that the smallest unit a family will be eligible for is one that allows a maximum of two occupants per bedroom. Many municipalities have established their own social housing standards, but they tend to hold to the SHRA’s ‘2 person per bedroom’ rule.

At first glance, this standard may seem reasonable.

But what about a low income couple with 3 children? Under the SHRA, they would only be eligible for a 3 bedroom apartment. In many communities, 3 bedroom social housing units are very hard to come by – there aren’t many and they don’t turn over very often.

This family might find that two bedroom apartments (which are more plentiful) will meet their needs – e.g. the parents may be willing to sleep in the living room, while their children use the bedrooms. This won’t be an option for them because of the occupancy standards.

The family will end up living in an expensive, private market apartment which will, ironically, likely be a two bedroom unit since they will have difficulty affording three bedrooms.

Social housing occupancy rules can act as a major barrier to families with children who are trying to access appropriate, affordable housing. Rules for private market housing have been challenged under the Human Rights Code, but social housing requirements have to date received only minimal scrutiny.

Some who are in favour of these standards point to healthy and safety concerns. And indeed, households with more than two persons per bedroom will find themselves in ‘Core Housing Need’ as defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. However, I’m not convinced there is evidence to back up this argument. There is a difference between an ideal, what we should work towards, and what is necessary for health and safety reasons. Municipal occupancy standards by-laws – which relate to health and safety – tend to be much more lenient than social housing rules.

Another argument in favour is that, without the 2 person per bedroom maximum, families will apply for smaller units, get housed and then apply for an internal transfer to a larger unit – effectively jumping the queue. If that is a concern, then address the internal transfer system.

Of course, it is a good thing to give families as much living space as possible. But governments and social housing providers shouldn’t use this goal to deny a family an apartment which the family feels meets their needs.

In the end, shouldn’t the family decide what’s best?

Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy – Not Worth the Wait

The most heartbreaking part of an Eviction Prevention worker’s job is referring a client to a homeless shelter.  It is very sobering to hear, on the other end of the line, the moment a client realizes she cannot afford to stay in her home.  The mixture of fear, shame and anxiety is quite palpable.

And it seems that there will be more and more heartbreaking phone calls to come.  This week, the Ontario Liberals revealed their oft-delayed, long-term affordable housing strategy and let’s just say it doesn’t seem to be worth the wait. In particular, it fails to adopt a human rights framework and largely ignores the particular housing needs of people with disabilities, women and other equality-seeking groups.  And despite a record number of Ontario households on the waiting list for social housing, Housing Minister Rick Bartolucci announced there will be no new funding for affordable housing.  According to the Wellesley Institute, the success of any long-term affordable housing plan requires some semblance of targets and timelines.  But the province only offers vague promises like “engaging” the feds for more money.  This sounds remarkably underwhelming.

To be fair, there are some encouraging bits in the announcement – simplification of the rent-geared-to-income process, for one – but overall, a plan that does not set any goals is not really a plan at all.