2017 City Budget Passes: Service Cuts for Vulnerable Communities, Lack of Action on Poverty Reduction

That's it. That's all. Toronto City Council passed the 2017 City budget on February 15. Despite calls from community members to "have a heart and stop the cuts", the final budget included some troubling services cuts affecting vulnerable communities. While filling in budget gaps to maintain many critical services, the 2017 City budget failed to take substantive action to advance poverty reduction goals in Toronto.

 

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The Commitment to Community campaign held the "Have a Heart, Stop the Cuts" rally on February 15 at Toronto City Hall. Community members busted open the Gardiner Expressway pinata to demonstrate one of the clear choices before Council - massive spending on the Gardiner Expressway vs. child care, recreation, affordable housing and other critical services.    


At the end of the day, City Council voted for just under $6 million for new and expanded poverty reduction programs and initiatives including:

  • 300 new child care subsidies ($3,003,000) 
  • Student Nutrition Program - strengthening current program and expanding to 48 new schools as part of the 6-year SNP expansion plan ($2,103,700)
  • Toronto Public Library services (Sunday open hours at district branches - $139,300 and half of the funds sought for internet wi-fi hotspot lending enhancement - $150,000)
  • Toronto Public Library services (opening 2 youth hub programs and more money for youth hub programming for all sites - $387,000) 
  • Toronto Urban Health Fund year 3 funding for community organizations that provide HIV prevention, harm reduction and child and youth resiliency programs ($150,000 total with the provincial government covering $112,000 and the municipal government covering $38,000) 

Total funds for new PRS initiatives are $5,933,000 (funds from all sources); $5,821,000 (municipal contribution).

The City of Toronto substantially increased its funding to Toronto Community Housing and TTC. However, most of those funds filled holes in the budget to maintain existing services. While absolutely critical to address budget gaps, it did not allow for the introduction of new programs or expansion of existing services. This budget also included service cuts impacting some of our most vulnerable residents, big increases in recreation user fees and TTC fare hikes. As discussed below, the data tell the story of communities struggling with basic survival needs, and facing long waiting lists and big user fee increases for important services.  

Within a $10 billion budget, the addition of $6 million to make progress on the poverty reduction plan is far short of the $75 million community groups originally called for as a first step in the 2016 budget. All in, investment for new and expanded PRS initiatives over the past two years totals $17,621,000. That might sound like a big number but it's not. It's 0.09% of the combined 2016 and 2017 City operating budgets. If the City budget was $100, it would be like putting 9 cents toward new poverty reduction programs. 

A few notes from City of Toronto documents on youth hubs: “The Youth Hubs address the City’s objective of providing out of school-time programs for children and youth in neighborhoods across the city. The Hubs provide access to nutrition, information and technology, homework support, and complimentary programs that build life and leadership skills. Volunteer tutors contribute to successful outcomes for participating youth Having successfully established Youth Hubs at four branch locations (Cedarbrae and York Woods in 2015 and Fairview and Maria A. Shchuka in 2016), TPL’s budget enhancement of $0.234 million net and gross will allow for the development of two additional Youth Hubs at Albion and Barbara Frum in 2017.

An additional request of $0.153 million in 2017 is recommended by the Board to support the increased and ongoing program costs of the existing six Youth Hubs including the purchase of additional technological equipment, textbooks and software.”

On the Toronto Urban Health Fund: “The 2017 funding for an additional $0.150 million gross and $0.038 million net will continue to address the increasing rates of HIV/STI and high risk sexual and substance misuse behaviours among vulnerable youth living in underserved regions of the City, specifically targeting Indigenous populations and those residing in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas.”

The City of Toronto is also undertaking policy work to advance the PRS including on the low-income transit pass, social procurement policy, and job quality assessment tool.

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The 2017 budget includes service cuts to:

  • Staff reductions from attrition (not rehiring after someone leaves and more work for remaining staff; affects homeless and housing first solutions and social housing system management; 10.25 full-time equivalent positions) ($1,047,800) - City Council made this service cut. However, there's a chance it could be reversed. Councillor Di Ciano moved a motion requesting a staff report on the impact of the cut and the Mayor amended the motion to request that report by April. At that time, there will be an opportunity to reconsider this measure. 
  • Cuts to Long-Term Care Homes & Services, including cuts to part-time staff hours and replacement staff when employees take time for mandatory education training ($1,315,700)
  • Many have observed that City Council saw fit to reverse a $2 million cut to street sweeping but could not find funds for critical services affecting our most vulnerable residents such as $1 million to stop cuts to shelters or $1.3 million to prevent cuts to care for ill and elderly residents living in long-term care homes.
  • Elimination of 111.3 full-time equivalent recreation workers (City staff report that most of these positions are vacant and it will not affect services; these are mostly part-time jobs, and often held by youth which could be used to provide programs to address the nearly 190,000 people on the recreation program waiting list)
  • Parks, Forestry and Recreation is not renewing agreements for use of 3 TDSB pools for recreation programs (they do not consider this a service cut because there are neighbouring pools where people can access services; attempts were made to save use of these three pools but all motions failed)
  • TTC cuts to routes (the TTC CEO says the route cuts are not service cuts; they are routine service adjustments – they cut service on some routes to increase on others; some of these service cuts are due to delays in acquiring new streetcar from Bombardier - buses are being moved onto streetcar routes because the new cars aren't available yet; call it a cut, call it a routine service adjustment, if you're on one of those routes, you'll be waiting longer for your bus; TTC figures show ¼ of all surface routes are overcrowded at some point in time during the day; this budget is not going to change that)

This budget also include user fee increases:

  • The budget includes a 10 cent fare increase for all fares, except cash fares. This means adult metropass users will pay an extra $57 a year, a 3.4% increase.
  • Recreation user fees which affect more modest income residents are set to increase by 2.3% with even bigger increases for introductory and subscriber programs with a 12.3% increase; extended care camp fees are also up well above inflation. Attempts were made to reverse user fee increases above inflation. However, this motion failed.

Most of our analysis following the Budget Committee vote still applies. Here’s a revised version reflecting the final budget decisions.

What does this budget do to advance the City's commitment to poverty reduction?

This budget makes little progress on the Mayor and City Council's commitment to reduce poverty in Toronto. 

Housing and homelessness:

  • The hole in the Toronto Community Housing operating budget was filled. We understand that City Council will add $37.5 million in base operating funding to the TCHC budget. The TCHC capital repair budget to pay for the repair and maintenance of tenant homes remains deeply underfunded with no financial commitments from provincial and federal governments at this time. The federal government has made a commitment to introduce a national housing strategy. The City is hopeful that this will result in increased, ongoing and sustainable funding for housing including TCHC repairs. Due to inadequate funding, 427 TCHC units are expected to be boarded up in 2017, resulting in nearly 1,000 boarded up units in total. Without new funding, the TCHC CEO says they will be boarding up one unit a day in 2018. This is housing we desperately need in this city.
  • The budget includes $6 million to assist with the completion of Phase 3 of the Regent Park revitalization.
  • The budget includes little new investment for the creation of affordable housing. The City projects no decline in the number of households on the social housing waiting list, projected at 97,500 households in 2016-19, although the City is anticipating some federal funding for housing in upcoming years. The City projects completing 289 new units of affordable rental housing in 2017, well below its already modest target of 1,000 per year. As well, affordable housing is often defined as housing with rents set at 100% of the market rent which is not affordable for many residents. The City also projects a decrease in the social housing stock in 2017 at 91,266 units, down by 1,921 units from 2016.
  • The budget includes over $1 million in cuts to the Shelter, Support and Housing budget affecting homeless and housing first solutions and social housing system management. As mentioned above, there is a chance that these cuts could be reversed in April when a staff report comes forward assesses the impact. These are staffing cuts that will be made through attrition without laying off staff. Instead employees may be reassigned to other shelters or when a position becomes vacant, the position will not be filled. These are cuts to front-line positions in shelters and staffing positions in the social housing system. City staff report that the cuts to front-line positions in shelters include client service workers, councillor, food service workers, program supervisors, registered nurse, street outreach councillor, social housing consultant. Asked why they proposed this cut, staff say because they were directed to reduce their budgets by 2.6% and would not otherwise make these cuts. We learned at the Council meeting that six City-run shelters will be affected and that five of the lost positions will be at one of the six shelters. Meanwhile, the City's shelter system remains at capacity. Any reduction in service is harmful to this vulnerable group.
  • The City is opening new emergency shelters. However, the process is slow going. Even with new shelters opening, the City anticipates shelter occupancy for men in 2017 at 92%, above the 90% occupancy target re-committed to by the City in 2013. The City anticipates occupancy in the women's shelter system will decrease to 90% due to the opening of a 60-bed shelter which took place in December 2016. However, occupancy in January continues to hover around 95%. Many groups, including Social Planning Toronto, have called on the Mayor and City Council to open temporary shelters until the crisis in the shelter system is resolved. So far, there's no commitment from the Mayor's office or City Council to take this action. Read more hereherehere and here
  • The Emergency Cooling Centre Program which provides relief for homeless and vulnerable residents at risk from extreme heat was saved at City Council. Toronto Public Health will run it and will evaluate the program to make improvements to it.
  • On the evening of the City Council meeting, a young man who was homeless and sought shelter at the St. Felix Centre, a warming centre, was told he could not sleep there because it was full. St. Felix is not a shelter but a warming centre put in place to provide for people because of the crowded conditions in the shelter system. Staff offered to put him on a waiting list or refer him to another warming centre. The young man left the centre and was shortly after found dead in a nearby fast food restaurant due to a suspected drug overdose. Our shelter system, due to underfunding, is overwhelmed. It is shocking that City Council voted to cut already severely stretched services for some of our most vulnerable residents but could find funds to prevent service cuts in street sweeping. Read more here, here, here and here 

Child care:

  • Executive Committee cancelled the massive increase in child care costs ($351) for families using child care centres in schools. This is a temporary measure for 2017. The City will talk to the Province about it. It may emerge in future budgets. 300 new child care subsidies are included in this budget. The current waiting list for subsidized child care is 17,700. Recent reports call for a major increase in new spaces. To make them affordable, subsidies must be made available.

Recreation:

  • Recreation user fees which affect more modest income residents are set to increase by 2.3% with even bigger increases for introductory and subscriber programs with a 12.3% increase; extended care camp fees are also up well above inflation.
  • 189,467 people are on the waiting list for recreation programs including 65,638 Scarborough, 51,487 Etobicoke/York, 44,047 North York and 28,295 Toronto/East York residents.
  • The recreation budget includes the elimination of 111.3 full-time equivalent recreation worker jobs. These kinds of jobs are predominantly part-time positions held by youth. City staff say most of these positions are currently vacant. 

Student nutrition:

  • The City has a 6-year Student Nutrition Program investment plan. The budget now includes funding for the implementation of the 5th year of the plan which covers inflationary increases for the cost of food, improvements to existing programs, and funding for programs at 48 new schools. Despite having a plan for increased investment, every year there's a struggle to get the money into the budget to pay for the program.

Public Library programs:

  • The budget now includes money to keep district libraries open on Sundays and half of the funds needed to expand internet wi-fi hotspot lending which provides free internet access in low income areas.
  • This year's budget follows a continue pattern of staffing cuts in libraries. Since amalgamation, libraries have lost 17% of their staff. Half of this female-dominated workforce is in precarious employment.
  • City Council added the full funds to expand the library’s youth hub program to two new sites and increased the budget for programming costs at all sites.

Public Transit:

  • The budget includes a 10 cent fare increase for all fares, except cash fares. This means adult metropass users will pay an extra $57 a year, a 3.4% increase. Meanwhile, don't expect better service for your dollars. The TTC has made service cuts to several routes and will maintain overcrowding conditions on one-quarter of all bus and streetcar routes.
  • The TTC budget also does not include funds to improve track, signal and traction power reliability, the track safety plan, or staff training to provide service in stations.
  • TTC CEO Andy Byford has made the argument that this budget does not include any service cuts. TTCRiders would beg to differ. Their analysis identifies service cuts made in November and January affecting 27 routes, overcrowding conditions affecting 34 bus and 9 regular streetcar routes, cuts to bus maintenance, and failure to fund subway reliability measures. In the Fall, the TTC board voted against allocating $1.5 million for scheduled service improvements citing lower than expected ridership. Yet, it's hard to see how those funds for service improvement weren't desperately needed. Read TTCRiders' analysis here and here, and check out their awesome maps of how your routes are affected.

Toronto Police Service:

  • Check out a NOW Magazine article by former TPS Board Chair Alok Mukerjee and analysis of the police budget from the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.
  • One-quarter of property taxes go to the Toronto Police Services budget.

We are a far distance from making real progress in improving the lives of residents struggling to make ends meet in the city.

How did your city councillor vote on the budget? Check out this handy chart kindly assembled by our partners at the Children's Aid Society of Toronto.

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