The next federal government needs to spend an additional $800 million a year for eight years to solve the country’s growing housing affordability issue, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Wednesday.
“This is probably the single biggest social and economic challenge that we face as a city, and the failure to act will be greatly at the expense of the quality of life and the economic life of the city,” said Tory, after the Federation of Canadian Municipalities issued a statement calling on all parties running in the upcoming federal election to support increased spending on the National Housing Strategy.
The federal Liberal government has spent nearly $13 billion across Canada since launching the National Housing Strategy in 2017, in an effort to create more affordable housing for the middle class and those with low incomes and more housing for people grappling with homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction.
While Tory said he’s grateful for the money Toronto has received so far, including $1.3 billion in federal funding announced in April to help fix the city’s crumbling community housing, more remains to be done, including identifying surplus federal lands that can be used for social housing.
“At my request … they did an inventory across the country and since they’ve done the inventory they have put up almost next to nothing of their land, compared to cities like Toronto and Vancouver, for example, which have put up multiple pieces of land for the construction of affordable housing,” Tory said.
Toronto is a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Tory is a member of the big city mayors’ caucus.
Federation president Bill Karsten said his organization, which represents more than 2,000 municipalities comprising 90 per cent of the Canadian population, wants to put political parties and their supporters on the spot as they campaign for office.
“We’re holding the federal government and all party leaders and their caucuses and their election architects’ feet to the fire to make sure all parties agree with the continuation of funding for the National Housing Policy,” he said, adding that the policy is based in part on a draft by federation staff sent to Jean-Yves Duclos, federal minister of families, children and social development.
Karsten said the new recommendations were drafted to plug some of the gaps that have become apparent since the National Housing Strategy was announced.
“The National Housing Policy is a great document, but I also believe that when you have a document like this, it is also a breathing, living document, and certainly, through our members, a few gaps were found,” said Karsten.
The federation is asking for a new dedicated fund to build supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness and struggling with mental illness, substance abuse and other challenges, creating an additional 2,300 supportive housing units per year, at an estimated cost for the fund of $365 million a year.
The federation is asking for more culturally appropriate social and affordable housing for Indigenous households, at a cost of $162.5 million per year for 1,000 units per year; and an additional $20 million per year in funding to make federal surplus land available for social and affordable housing.
The federation noted that as of April, 2019, only five properties had been made available through the existing approach.
It’s also asking for federal tax incentives and grants to preserve and improve aging, low-cost market rental housing, without jacking up rents or evicting existing tenants. The estimated cost of that program is $250 million.
A program that offsets the cost of home renovations like ramps and lifts that help seniors safely remain in their homes would cost about $30 million a year for 12,000 projects.
The annual cost of all the requests is about $827 million.
The federation pointed to the 2018 Rental Housing Index, which found that in Canada, 40 per cent of renters spend 30 per cent or more of their income on rent and to a Royal Bank of Canada study from 2018, which found that an average-priced home requires almost 52 per cent of the median household income to cover the cost of home ownership.
The office of Duclos, the federal minister, issued a statement responding to the federation’s challenge.
“Our Government understands that Canadians need housing policies based on evidence, not partisan ideology.
“We’ll work closely with our partners at all levels, including municipalities, to ensure that we’re properly identifying barriers to accessing housing, while also measuring and assessing the impact of existing housing policies. In doing so, we’ll ensure that the National Housing Strategy evolves over time in a way that reflects the reality of housing in Canada, and continues to give more Canadians a safe, affordable, accessible place to call home.”
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF