CERA’s 2019 Ontario Pre-Budget Submission

Prepared for Standing Committee on Finance

February 8, 2019

About Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation

The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (“CERA”) is a not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to preventing evictions, ending housing discrimination and stabilizing rental housing across Ontario. CERA was founded in 1987 as the only organization in Canada with a primary focus on promoting human rights in housing, and for thirty years we have used human rights tools to promote housing security for all Ontarians.

We believe that housing is a human right, and that all Ontarians should be able to access a safe and affordable home regardless of income level. And we are happy to report that ensuring that housing is available to all Ontarians will not only solve our homelessness crisis, but in the long run will also save Ontario money. Here are our ideas about how to make sure housing is available not only for our most wealthy, but for all Ontarians.

Introduction

The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (“CERA”) is a not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to preventing evictions, ending housing discrimination and stabilizing rental housing across Ontario. CERA was founded in 1987 as the only organization in Canada with a primary focus on promoting human rights in housing, and for thirty years we have used human rights tools to promote housing security for all Ontarians.

We believe that housing is a human right, and that all Ontarians should be able to access a safe and affordable home regardless of income level. And we are happy to report that ensuring that housing is available to all Ontarians will not only solve our homelessness crisis, but in the long run will also save Ontario money.

The current housing situation across Ontario is complex and at a critical juncture. CERA believes that immediate and bold actions and investments are needed by all levels of government to stabilize housing across the province. The population of Ontario will continue to grow and we are facing a situation where years of missed opportunities have caused an affordability crisis all along the housing continuum in home ownership, renting, social and supportive housing. All Ontarians are affected, but impacting those who are the most vulnerable are facing the most dire consequences of this crisis, including homelessness.

Action must be taken, and CERA has three recommendations that together will promote housing affordability and access to housing for all in the short term, and save tax payers money in the long term.

Recommedations

1. Investing in a Housing First Model will save taxpayer money  

  Homelessness affects thousands of people in Ontario, and in Toronto alone there are currently over 8700[1] homeless individuals. These are the Ontarians who need our help the most. We know that housing is the foundation around which everything else in a person’s life is built – individuals cannot access employment and often are unable to access social services without an address. Many of Ontario’s most vulnerable youth are homeless, and without a home they are unlikely to gain an education, employment reach their potential.

Our current system relies on emergency shelters, which are very expensive and only provide short-term solutions to a problem that will not go away until there is adequate housing for all Ontarians. A Housing First Model would solve both the immediate and long-term impacts of homelessness not only on individuals living on the streets, but on taxpayers.

The cost of homelessness-related services accessed by people with serious mental illness in five Canadian cities showed that shelter, medications, ambulatory visits, psychiatric hospital stays and justice-related services accessed in 2016 on average cost $59,000 per person. [2] These costs could be avoided and these Ontarians’ health and safety could be greatly increased if they were provided with housing which would cost the government significantly less each year.

Several cities across North America have already implemented a Housing First model, which is founded on the simple idea of providing shelter for those who need it immediately. Studies have shown that not only does a housing first approach benefit homeless populations immensely, it also saves the government money. The upfront cost of providing housing to homeless individuals leads to significant cost reduction over time across sectors such as health and justice.

The Government of Ontario should invest in implementing the Housing First model across Ontario, as a proven immediate solution to homelessness. By providing 30,000 units[3] of transitional and supportive housing we could greatly reduce homelessness and its immense associated social and fiscal costs.

2. Encouraging first time home buyers and discouraging speculation in the housing market to increase housing supply

The Government of Ontario should take steps to make it easier for first time buyers and lower income Ontarians to purchase homes while discouraging the increasing commodification of housing through investment acquisition and to tighten regulations around short-term rentals. Investment properties sitting empty and the repurposing of former rental units for short-term rentals have put a significant dent in the availability of affordable housing in cities like Toronto.

Many millennials, young families and newcomers to Canada are facing the reality that they will never be able to own homes in Ontario’s urban centers. This means we are in a situation where the human capital is being pushed away from areas where the economy needs it the most. Urban populations are aging, and the demographics that start new businesses and spur innovation are being squeezed out.

The Government of Ontario needs to take measures to ensure that our cities remain vibrant and the way to do that is to ensure that people of all walks of life and income levels can afford to live in our urban centers.

3. Modernizing Social Housing

The reality is that some Ontarians will always require assistance to pay for their housing, including seniors and some persons with disabilities. As wages stagnate and housing supply remains inadequate, across Ontario, wait lists for social housing are long and many people are existing in unfit conditions until they get their spot.

The Government of Ontario must work to modernize and expand our social housing system. Two ways that affordability can be achieved for some of our most vulnerable citizens are by significantly increasing the number of purpose-built rental housing units at the 30% rent geared to income (RGI) level of affordability scale and significantly increasing the number of portable rent supplement opportunities (vouchers) available to/for low income household renters.

[1] https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/99be-2018-SNA-Results-Report.pdf

[2] http://cmajopen.ca/content/5/3/E576.full.pdf+html?sid=9c8e03c6-9175-4985-85e6-ac34a83ac1e5

[3] https://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/housing/welcome-steps-on-supportive-housing-and-mental-health/

March 22, 2019

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