Advocates praise budget's $11.2B boost for affordable housing (Toronto Star)

Housing and homelessness advocates are calling the federal commitment to affordable housing a strong step forward in the effort to end a countrywide housing crisis.

While it’s too soon to know what this money will mean for Toronto, the $11.2 billion pledge is seen as a clear signal that the federal government is dedicated to creating new and affordable housing and keeping people off the streets.

“Clearly, today the Government of Canada has embraced its role in helping to build up the City of Toronto,” said Mayor John Tory, speaking broadly about the budget in a statement.

“It’s now time for the province to come to the table and make it clear that they too will fund these vital Toronto priorities.”

The federal government has promised $11.2 billion for affordable housing initiatives and programs, to be spent over 11 years. Roughly $3 billion is set to be spent in the next five years and $20 million slated for this year.

Last year’s budget included a $2.3 billion pledge for affordable housing construction and repairs, with half a billion committed to be spent over the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The money falls short of what a caucus of big city mayors, including Tory, had said was needed for affordable housing. Tory, with the caucus, had asked for a pledge of $12.6 billion, spread over eight years.

Toronto Community Housing faces a $2.6 billion repair bill over the next 10 years. The corporation houses more than 110,000 people in 2,100 properties, including more than 350 low- and high-rise buildings, and is on track to close 475 units before the end of the year. The city has already put in one-third of the money for repairs and Tory has repeatedly pressed the federal and provincial governments to each pay a remaining third of the bill.

The Star's Tonda MacCharles explains what is in the 2017 federal budget.(DAVID CHAN)

Councillor Ana Bailao, the city’s housing advocate, described the budget as a huge step forward, and said it was reassuring to see the needs of municipalities, including action on homelessness and data collection, reflected in the early details.

Bailao said it is critically important that money provided to cities be distributed based on need, not strictly population, and that the province matches funding, particularly for social housing repairs.

“We need to touch different points of the housing spectrum, but definitely the TCHC and the housing stock is something that needs to be maintained,” said Bailao.

“It doesn’t make sense with all these issues that we have that we let it crumble, that we let our residents live in such deplorable conditions. It is important and crucial that we maintain these units.”

In Canada, more than 35,000 people experience homelessness on any given night, and more than 235,000 will over the year, according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

A National Housing Strategy is expected this spring, after a months-long consultation process, where more than 7,000 Canadians weighed in through reports, focus groups and written submissions.

Pedro Barata, co-chair of the National Housing Collaborative, said he was pleased to see the federal government commit to long-term funding for affordable housing, particularly when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable.

(Pedro Barata, co-chair of the National Housing Collaborative, said he was pleased to see the federal government commit to long-term funding for affordable housing, particularly when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable.  (MELISSA RENWICK/FOR THE TORONTO STAR))

Pedro Barata, who co-chairs the National Housing Collaborative, a coalition of non-profit and private housing associations and charitable foundations, said they were pleased to see the federal government commit to long-term funding, particularly when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable.

“We believe it is strategic and very smart for government to invest $11 billion over the next decade that prioritizes those populations at the greatest risk,” said Barata. “We are seeing the government pretty much put a checkmark on most of the initiatives that we know require urgent action and require sustained action.”

Barata noted the budget contained a $2.13 billion commitment to ending homelessness, to be spent over 10 years.

“That is really important for a city like Toronto, where there is such a clear and present need for action,” he said. “To see that level of investment double over the next five years is going to be a real game changer when it comes to our ability to make sure that everybody has a safe place to live.”

Alejandra Ruiz-Vargas, 48, has been living in community housing since 2011, and says help can’t come soon enough.

“Toronto Community is the core of housing in Toronto,” said Ruiz-Vargas, East York chair of tenant advocacy group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Toronto, or ACORN Toronto.

“We are using Band-Aids for everything and really not tackling this as a crisis,” she said. “If this was a flood everybody in government would be taking care of helping to contain the water, so people will not be drowning.”

With files from Alex Ballingall and Jennifer Pagliaro

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