CANDIDATES: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE HOUSING CRISIS?
FROM OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE OF WEST END PHOENIX
Across Toronto, the vacancy rate is one per cent, rents are skyrocketing and our homeless population is growing. (The conservative estimate: currently just over 7,000.) The housing crisis is taking on the contours of an emergency, particularly in Parkdale, where the number of renters sits at 90 per cent, higher than anywhere else in the city. Douglas Bell asks the federal candidates running in Parkdale-High Park how exactly they intend to address the problem
How will you ensure that new immigrants, refugees and low earners can find housing in the face of a rapidly dwindling affordable stock?
Everyone should have the right to a safe and affordable place to call home, but the reality is that an increasing number of constituents in Parkdale-High Park do not.
Our community is faced with the rapid development of a singular type of housing stock: luxury condominiums that are unaffordable for the vast majority. Reshaping the neighbourhood in the interest of developers and private market capital is not a housing plan and will never meet the needs of the entirety of our community. We need to ensure that every new development has units that are affordable for people with middle and low incomes, including those on shelter allowances from social welfare.
In Parkdale, there are more than twice as many [single-person apartments] than there are Toronto Community Housing units, yet there remains no public policy framework to protect their existence and affordability. This is critical to pushing back against the existing threat to the economic and cultural diversity that has long been associated with Parkdale. I will collaborate with community partners, local activists and other levels of government to protect critical community infrastructure.
A long run of successive governments have left us in a position whereby we need to confront drastic immediate needs. What does that look like? Money, and lots of it. Not just ad hoc spending as we’ve experienced for decades now, but a comprehensive national strategy that comes with guaranteed mid- and long-term funding.
That includes a seat at the table for municipalities and Indigenous leaders in making those mid- and long-term funding decisions.
A comprehensive national housing strategy alone will not address the issues of affordability in the short term, however, so other measures will need to be employed to address immediate needs, like Pharmacare, free post-secondary education and eliminating taxation on earnings of $20K or less. These all help to free up an individual’s or family’s funds that can then be reallocated to housing.
The Greens are also committed to addressing long-term economic sustainability with the advent of a guaranteed living income. If we are to be truly honest and practical and compassionate, the Guaranteed Livable Income is the only long-term solution to end poverty and economic inequity, and that’s why the Greens have been advocating for it for decades.
The housing crisis is not unique to our area or the city of Toronto. Overpopulation, and the resulting lack of affordable housing, is an issue that must be met with sustainable longterm solutions. I would work with organizations like CoLiving Canada and Canadian Cohousing Network. In addition to their focus on social responsibility and principled participation they maintain financial sustainability. These innovative and socially responsible organizations are starting to meet the accelerating demands of the housing crisis in fiscally sustainable ways. I would reward and encourage companies that have taken the care to create these systems with federal funding to help them green light even more projects where they are needed most.
In 2017, our Liberal government launched Canada’s first-ever 10-year $55-billion National Housing Strategy (NHS) that will reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent, create 100,000 new housing units, repair and renew more than 300,000 housing units and offset rental costs by an average of $2,500 per year with the new, portable Canada Housing Benefit.
The NHS specifically prioritizes support for vulnerable populations, such as newcomers and low-income earners. For example, we are creating a Federal Housing Advocate, supported by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, to identify systemic housing issues facing individuals and households belonging to vulnerable groups. In Toronto, this year the Prime Minister announced $1.3 billion for Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) for critical repairs and renovations to 58,000 units at 1,500 buildings across the city – the largest investment with a municipal partner in Canadian history. This has translated into direct results for our community. In Parkdale-High Park, we have delivered $4.6 million to the five co-ops and 365 TCHC units in our community since we took office in 2015.
Other measures we have implemented to make life more affordable for individuals and families include the tax-free Canada Child Benefit, which we have increased twice since 2016 to keep up with the rising cost of living; Canada’s first-ever national Poverty Reduction Strategy, which targets a 20 per cent reduction in poverty by 2020 and a 50 per cent reduction in poverty by 2030; cutting taxes for middle-income earners and raising them on the wealthiest one per cent; and better financial security for seniors, by lowering the age of retirement to 65, enhancing Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan, and increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Do you support the efforts of groups like the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) to acquire residences and move them off the market, ensuring their affordability over time? If so, what will you do to help their efforts?
I would advocate for the work of groups like the PNLT to be further supported through the development of a federal funding stream (fast-start funds) to get future projects off the ground in a timely and responsive manner. I also plan to work to connect PNLT and similar groups that are doing this vital work with as many supports as possible that they deem helpful.
Absolutely. There have been innovative ideas on acquiring funding to facilitate land trusts – and all options need to be considered, because the bottom line in supporting this approach to preservation is money. The Greens are prepared to invest substantially in the short term and are prepared to assist in the insolvency challenges also being faced by co-op housing corporations.
Currently Canada as a whole is not settling immigrants and refugees responsibly. The challenges the PNLT are fighting are just one symptom of that. Another recent symptom is taxpayers having to foot the bill for asylum seekers staying in hotels in the GTA. This is a short-term solution and is not an efficient use of government funds. Simply taking rooming houses off the market would not be enough if the PNLT is serious about tackling the housing crisis, although it is my understanding that the PNLT is exploring much more that just that. For my support the PNLT would need to be open to working with socially responsible companies that work with builders and developers to replace and increase the capacity and efficiency of rooming houses. The PPC will also make immigration more sustainable so we can start alleviating the stresses on homeless shelters in Toronto and Vancouver and work toward settling new immigrants and vulnerable refugees more responsibly.
I absolutely support the work of the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, and I have been fortunate to work with them over the past four years. We introduced the Community-Based Tenant Initiative this year under the NHS, a fund of $10 million over five years for local organizations to assist people in housing need; help tenants access information on housing options; participate in on-site consultations for major developments; and provide support with financial literacy and financial management.
I have raised with the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of families, children and social development, the important ideas first raised with me by PNLT – about changing the Income Tax Act so that homes in Parkdale sold for social housing/public interest purposes should be exempt from capital gains taxes in the same manner as land sold for environmental conservation purposes.
Renovictions are increasingly a cause of homelessness. What can the federal government do to encourage the upkeep of older rental stock to keep vulnerable tenants in their homes?
One of the primary reasons that landlords have all of the power in these situations is that there are not enough affordable units for people that need them, and everyone knows that. In addition to all of the power, landlords know that many people are not aware of all of their rights.
Fighting back against a renovation shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the tenant. We need to adequately support groups that are providing support to tenants at risk of eviction.
One of the best ways to prevent illegitimate renovictions would be to link rent control measures to the unit. While this is tied to provincial legislation, the federal government must use every tool available to encourage action from the other levels of government.
I’m a staunch supporter of a Green New Deal for Canada. I believe that the Green New Deal should include federal funding support for building owners who conduct green retrofits and repairs, with particular incentives for those making needed repairs and renovations to affordable rental buildings/units and who commit to making them affordable for the duration of the life cycle of the repairs.
I will tirelessly advocate for an ambitious plan that re-engages the federal government in building affordable housing, which would include affordability at a variety of levels and be made up of a combination of affordable rental, social housing and co-ops, to significantly increase the supply of affordable housing.
When all the rules are adhered to and tenants actually do move back into their newly renovated home at the same rental rate as it was before the renovation, then great, everything worked as it should. The only problem is that most cannot afford to leave and then come back. This bridging between homes is simply unaffordable for most. Here is where government can help. Funding either directly or through tax credits or loan guarantees as well as regulatory measures, government can play a role to assist tenants facing renovictions. Non-compliance on the landlord’s part can and has resulted in big fines and reparation payments. Tenants need to know their rights and employ them because they do have tools against corrupt landlords.
To curb renovictions I could secure funding for Parkdale through a program like the Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) that ended in March of this year. However, it would be important to investigate this on a case-to-case basis based on the vulnerability of the tenant, the state of the unit(s) and the rights of the property owner. Depending on the funding and the priorities of the province and the city it may result in new housing solutions that could give priority to vulnerable tenants who have been evicted by landlords pushing to renovate.
Ensuring people have access to an affordable stock of rental housing is a key component of our NHS. To create new rental units and increase supply, we introduced the Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI) under the NHS. The RCFI provides low-cost loans to encourage the construction of rental housing across Canada. It supports sustainable apartment projects in areas where there is a need for additional rental supply. The initiative has a total of $3.75 billion in available loans. We also have in place a national strategy to address homelessness. Our strategy supports the goals of the NHS – specifically, reducing chronic homelessness nationally by 50 per cent by 2027–28. Through this strategy, we are reinforcing an existing community-based approach by delivering funding directly to municipalities and local service providers. It is also important to note that responsibility for housing, particularly as it pertains to tenants’ rights, evictions, and landlords, falls under the jurisdiction of the province of Ontario and that the Conservative government of Doug Ford has clearly stepped out of the fight for tenants’ rights. It is imperative that governments at all levels work together to prioritize and act on the issue of affordable housing.
Parkdale’s constituents have for a long time had ready access to legal services that protect them from predatory and/or abusive landlords. The Ontario government is cutting legal aid across the board. What will you do to restore those services?
Navigating our legal system is complicated, intimidating and time-consuming for someone to attempt to take on while navigating a difficult or traumatic experience. Access to legal services is a key element to a fairer society. It cannot be undermined.
I commit to fighting for increased ongoing funding to carry out the vital work that legal aid clinics and lawyers do. That work includes standing up against predatory and/or abusive landlords. If housing is a right in this country, we must uphold that right. The international covenant of the right to housing must be harmonized with domestic public policy and support given to groups like legal aid clinics that help tenants stand up to landlords that attempt to undermine our right to housing.
Legal aid funding is imperative and is widely known to actually save money in the long term. This discussion has been had for a long time and the idea of eliminating mandatory sentencing or the decriminalization of possession of drugs have been talked about widely, even promised to be addressed, but nothing yet. Properly funding legal aid would be the socially and fiscally prudent and compassionate approach. It is definitely in the interest of the public to have legal aid adequately funded so Greens would do everything possible to achieve and forward that.
At this time I would not intervene with decisions made by the province. That being said, there are a lot of resources online for tenants to educate themselves on their rights and to defend themselves in court.
I am strongly opposed to the Ford government’s decision to cut funding for legal aid and I have been very vocal – both in our community and in Ottawa – about this issue. I worked at three legal aid clinics as a law student and was a founding director of a fourth, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario. Ever since the cuts were announced, I have been advocating on behalf of the residents of Parkdale-High Park and local organizations that have been impacted by these cuts with my colleagues in Ottawa, including the minister of justice, the minister of finance and the Prime Minister. I was grateful to see that advocacy come to fruition on Aug. 12 when I welcomed Prime Minister Trudeau to Parkdale to announce that our Liberal government was restoring every dollar of legal aid funding cut by Doug Ford to immigrants and refugees. While legal aid remains a responsibility of the provincial government, our federal government has rightfully stepped up in light of these cuts and has dedicated funds to support refugee and immigration cases.
Responses have been edited and condensed.
Conservative candidate Adam Pham didn’t respond to several requests to participate.