Wellesley Institute backgrounder: Toronto municipal budget 2007, Three budgets and Torontonians needing homes are left out!



    TORONTO, March 26 /CNW/ - Three governmental budgets have been delivered
over the past seven days, and the hundreds of thousands of low, moderate and
middle-income Torontonians seeking affordable homes have been left out of all
three. The federal budget of March 19 was entirely silent on new affordable
housing spending; the provincial budget of March 22 merely re-announced
previously allocated federal housing dollars; and the municipal budget of
March 26 proposes cuts to local housing and homelessness spending.
    The federal government says housing is primarily a provincial and
municipal issue. Over the past two decades, it has cut housing funding and
downloaded programs. The Ontario government, following suit, has cut
provincial housing funding and downloaded programs to municipalities.
Provincial housing spending has been flat-lined in recent years. Municipal
politicians in Toronto call federal and provincial politicians "dead-beats"
and say it's all their fault - even as local officials cut housing and
homelessness funding.
    Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of Torontonians trapped in
inadequate or unaffordable homes, the tens of thousands in shelters and the
uncounted thousands of "hidden homeless" are left to watch federal, provincial
and municipal politicians squabble and pass the buck and point an accusing
finger at each other.
    Instead of delivering the housing dollars that Torontonians so urgently
need, Toronto's proposed 2007 operating budget of $7.8 billion (which makes it
one of the biggest government budgets in Canada - larger than any of the
Atlantic provinces and almost the size of Manitoba or Saskatchewan's
provincial budgets) cuts funding for municipal housing and homelessness
programs. Toronto's 2007 municipal operating budget proposes:

    (*) a 3.5% cut in homeless shelter beds, which means fewer beds available
    for people forced out on the streets.

    (*) a total of 863 affordable housing units on the 2007 target list, but
    almost 350 of those were on the 2006 list and weren't developed, so the
    number of net new affordable homes is barely above 500 homes (well below
    the 1,000 target set by City Council).

    (*) overall, spending for Toronto's Shelter, Support and Housing
    Administration is set at $692.5 million for 2007, down by $25 million
    from the 2006 approved budget of $717.8 million.

    In 2007, as in previous years, Toronto is not allocating a single penny
of municipal funding for new affordable housing. The city is relying on
federal and provincial funding, plus reserve funds created in previous years
using federal and provincial funding.
    The city has no plans in its 2007 budget to support the tens of millions
in additional federal housing funding that will flow to Toronto within days
(following the re-announcement, in last Thursday's provincial budget, that the
$392.5 million in federal housing dollars will be released by the end of March
2006).
    More than 175,000 Toronto households have annual incomes below $20,000 -
which puts them well below the poverty line and struggling just to pay the
rent and cover other necessities such as utilities, food, medicine,
transportation and clothing (Source: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census). An
all-time record of 31,000 renter households faced eviction in 2006 - almost
all because they couldn't afford to pay the rent (Source: Ontario Landlord and
Tenant Board).
    Almost 400,000 Toronto households have annual incomes below $40,000 -
which is the annual income required to afford this city's average market rent.
These are the renter and owner households trapped in the affordability squeeze
- not rich enough to afford their shelter costs, but not poor enough to
qualify for the limited housing supports that are available. (Source: Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2006 Rental Market Report)
    About 500,000 Toronto households (that's half of all the households in
the city) have annual incomes below $60,000 - which is the annual income
required to afford an average condominium. For them, the idea of owning even a
tiny condominium (including a down payment of $65,000, along with mortgage,
utility, common fees, and property taxes) is at best a remote fantasy.
(Source: RBC Economics, Housing Affordability, 2007)
    And less than 20% of all Toronto households (or about 170,000 households)
have annual incomes above $100,000 - which is the annual income required for a
standard two-storey home in Toronto (in addition to a down payment of
$110,000). (Source: RBC Economics, Housing Affordability, 2007) More than
eight out of every ten Toronto households have been shut out of the
conventional home ownership market.
    Other municipalities - such as Waterloo Region - have a better housing
record than Toronto because they have put municipal dollars on the table, and
leveraged the federal and provincial dollars that are available to them. For
instance, in recent years, Waterloo has developed about 1,200 new affordable
homes - almost the same as the 1,400 new homes developed in Toronto, even
though Waterloo is only one-tenth of the size of Toronto.
    Hundreds of thousands of Torontonians are caught in the double bind of
shrinking renter household income and rising rents, plus growing need for new
affordable homes set against a dwindling supply of affordable rental stock.
    Toronto faces major financial challenges. Federal and provincial
cost-cutting and downloading, especially in social programs such as housing
and welfare, have forced property taxpayers to cover the cost of
income-transfer programs. In its most recent budget, the Ontario government
announced plans to upload the cost of these programs in the "905"
municipalities surrounding Toronto, but the City of Toronto, and the rest of
Ontario beyond York, Durham and Peel Regions, are still forced to cover a
significant portion of provincially-mandated programs that should be covered
by provincial funding.
    The 65,000 households on Toronto's affordable housing waiting list (and
the hundreds of thousands of others in "housing core need") are left to watch
the political squabbling and realize that - seven days and three budgets later
- they are no closer to finding a good place to call home.
    The City of Toronto's doesn't have a comprehensive and fully-funded
affordable housing strategy. City staff was supposed to deliver a housing
strategy last year, but that initiative has been delayed to this year. Neither
the federal nor the provincial governments have comprehensive housing and
homelessness plans either, just a patchwork of short-term funding and
programs.
    The Wellesley Institute's Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto is a
fully-costed, practical and effective plan that sets realistic targets for
Toronto. The plan is at www.wellesleyinstitute.com/theblueprint.
    The Wellesley Institute has also launched a housing and homelessness
"wiki" - an on-line tool for information-sharing and collaboration - at
www.wiki.wellesleyinstitute.com.





For further information:

For further information: Michael Shapcott, Senior Fellow, The Wellesley
Institute, (416) 972-1010, x231, (mobile) (416) 605-8316,
michael@wellesleyinstitute.com

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