Toronto sounds alarm on $750M public housing repair backlog

Toronto Star - Social justice reporter Laurie Monsebraaten


Toronto’s $751 million public housing repair bill, coupled with the pending loss of $161 million in annual social housing funding from Ottawa, is pushing the city to the brink, says the chair of the city’s affordable housing committee.

“We’re at the cliff,” said Councillor Ana Bailao.

“We have a huge need to build more (affordable housing),” she said in an interview.

“But we are receiving less money to operate what we already have at a time when that housing is increasingly under pressure due to maintenance and capital repair issues.”

Bailao’s warning comes on the heels of a report last week by Ontario’s Non-Profit Housing Association that says the province’s affordable housing crisis is deepening, with more than 154,000 households on social housing wait lists and one in five paying more than half of their income on rent.

Bailao hopes the city’s “Closing the Housing Gap” public awareness campaign, being launched at Toronto City Hall on Monday afternoon, will convince both Ottawa and Queen’s Park that Toronto and other cities need long-term, predictable funding from senior governments.

The two-year, $20,000 campaign will include 154 bus shelter posters, 5,000 postcards from residents, public information meetings and grassroots activities.

The city has raised almost $157 million for repairs to Toronto Community Housing buildings through mortgage refinancing and the sale of 111 homes.

“We have looked at anything and everything to raise money for ‘state of good repair,’” Bailao said. “But this is a problem that is not going to go away. We need sustainable funding.”

About 164,000 people — more than the population of Prince Edward Island — live in the housing company’s 2,200 high-, mid- and lowrise apartments, townhouses and stand-alone houses, she noted.

Toronto received about $161 million from the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. last year to cover mortgages and rent subsidies in thousands of social housing buildings, many built 25 to 30 years ago. But the federal funding ends when mortgages are paid.

By 2031, when the last mortgage is paid, Toronto will have lost a total of $2 billion in federal housing funds, money the city says should be redirected into maintaining that aging housing in good repair.

Upgrades to elevators, heating and plumbing systems are needed. And many can’t operate without rent subsidies, leaving the city on the hook to cover those costs too, housing officials say.

Toronto is already beginning to feel the pinch. Between 2013 and 2017, the city expects to lose $33.4 million in federal funds as mortgages are paid. That works out to a 1.4 per cent property tax increase, or an extra $38 per household, city financial officials say.

Meantime, Queen’s Park continues to shortchange Toronto by about $81 million a year on shelter payments for people on welfare who live in subsidized housing.

That money should also be pumped back into the city’s aging social housing stock, Bailao said.

A spokesman for Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey said the ministry is aware of the city’s concerns and is exploring “options” with the social services ministry.

Ottawa is also looking at the problem, said Charles Sauriol, a spokesman for Canada Mortgage and Housing.

“A federal, provincial, territorial working group is currently examining the financial viability of the existing social housing stock across Canada as the operating agreements mature,” he said.

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