Jun 28, 2013
Housing: Why Time is not on our Side.
Two co-incident stories in the papers about housing this week is both good news and bad news for Toronto. It’s good that the state of repair of our public housing stock is in the news – it needs to be. But it’s unfortunate that the $150M spat between the province and the City is obscuring the real issue – the slow but inexorable decline of our housing stock and the real debate. What should we do about that?
If you are reading the Toronto papers, you know by now that the Province wants to “cut” $150M in payments to the City starting in 2016, and that the money is primarily used for housing. The papers are focussing on more dramatic aspects of the story: Was Toronto blindsided? Did the province break a deal to provide longer term funding? Is the Mayor being punished for running a tight ship?
The letter that has surfaced sure looks like it creates a reasonable expectation on the part of the City for continued funding. BUT (1) it’s not funding forever, so this was always coming and (2) all this is happening in the context of reallocating overall costs. So, most of us are lost as to which set of taxpayers (Toronto or Ontario) wins and loses out of this.
So the eyes roll, the hands go up, and the thing is written off as another municipal-provincial argument about who should pay what. But look deeper and you will see that there is a very real, very imminent problem.
The March of Time
Think about it this way: The housing stock owned by the City and other not for profits is getting older every day. The slow march of time and its unforgiving impact on these buildings will eventually force us to deal with the state of public housing. The backlog we read about in the papers is $750M for Toronto Community Housing alone. It grows every day for one simple reason – the buildings get older every day.
None of us like to read about the 90,000 households waiting for housing, and we sometimes call for more affordable housing wanting to reduce that list. But the reality is that the public housing we have now will shrink as unrepaired units simply become uninhabitable. Federal government contributions, meanwhile, are scheduled to decline as funding agreements dating back to the 60s start coming to an end. That obviously doesn’t help matters.
That’s why the second storyline – the overall state of repair of public housing - is more important. It was spurred on by a couple of events. Firstly, the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association issued its “Where’s Home” report for 2013 detailing the state of housing across the province. Secondly, The City and TCH launched a Close the Gap campaign aimed at closing the repair backlog. What they are calling for is steady funding for social housing from senior governments. They want to be able to maintain the units that they have.
Why the Debate is a good thing
So here is the state of affairs:
- There is a big repair backlog
- There is a declining amount of money available for housing
- Absolutely, positively, no one wants to raise taxes
- Nobody says they want to close units.
- The buildings are getting older
This is obviously problematic. My point is that we can only wait so long before these decisions are made for us. If we do nothing, there will be less or worse public housing. It’s a certainty. Since that is not the result I personally think is best, I am glad to see this debate pushed into the light of day.
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