2018 City Preliminary Budget Fails to Make Good on Toronto City Council Commitments: Top 10 List
The City of Toronto’s 2018 preliminary budget fails to make good on many of Toronto City Council’s commitments to create a healthier, inclusive and equitable city for all. In recent years, the Mayor and City Councillors adopted several important plans and strategies to improve the quality of life of Toronto residents and respond to serious challenges facing our city. Plans were approved to increase access to affordable housing, recreation and child care, build strong neighbourhoods, and promote social inclusion for newcomers, seniors, youth and children. Initiatives were passed to respond to the challenges of climate change, confront anti-black racism, forge respectful partnerships with Indigenous communities, make public transit more affordable for low-income residents, and reduce poverty.
The preliminary budget does little to move the city forward on these plan to build an inclusive city for all. However, there’s still time to fix this budget. Toronto City Council votes on the final budget on February 12-13. That’s why it is so important for residents to participate in the Budget Committee’s public hearings (deputations) taking place on January 8, 9 and 10. Have your voice heard!
Source: Out of the Cold press conference on the homelessness and shelter crisis, 2017
Here’s our top 10 list of City Council commitments that are not included in the preliminary budget.
1) Poverty Reduction Strategy
- Toronto City Council unanimously endorsed TO Prosperity, its poverty reduction strategy, in 2015. But the plan won’t mean much for people struggling with low income if it isn’t properly funded.
- According to a City staff report, the 2018 workplan for the Poverty Reduction Strategy requires that $38.4 million in municipal funding be added to the budget. These funds would support several anti-poverty initiatives including the TCHC Tenants First plan, and homeless shelter and Student Nutrition Program expansions. So far, no funds have been added for the 2018 poverty reduction workplan.
2) Housing & Homelessness
- Toronto residents continue to struggle with the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis.
- According to City of Toronto budget documents, the waiting list for affordable housing is expected to climb to over 100,000 households this year, but the City has yet to meet any of its own targets for creating affordable housing.
- The homelessness crisis is so great that the City of Toronto projects no improvement in shelter occupancy levels, despite current plans for new beds. Overcrowding and reliance on Out of the Cold and winter respite programs (i.e. overnight drop-ins) are expected to continue in 2018.
- All orders of government have a role to play in responding to the affordable housing and homelessness crisis, but the City also needs to expand shelters and contribute to the creation of affordable housing beyond its current pace.
- Following on the advice of several City Councillors, the City should add 1,000 new shelter beds in order to meet its shelter occupancy target of 90%. The City also needs to contribute more to create new affordable housing. It should be working to not only meet, but exceed the City target of 1,000 new affordable rental housing units a year. The need is too great to simply hope for intervention from senior orders of government alone.
3) Making Public Transit Affordable for Low-Income Residents
- Endorsed by Toronto City Council, the Transit Fare Equity Program is a major part of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Through the plan, the City has committed to introduce a low-cost TTC pass for low-income residents, starting with Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients in 2018 (and expanding to all low-income residents by 2020). High transit fares make the city’s transit system inaccessible for many low-income residents, creating barriers to getting to work, accessing services, keeping connected with friends and family, and participating in community life. The introduction of a low-cost transit pass is long overdue.
- The preliminary budget does not include the $4.6 million required for the pass. It is being considered for funding, but not currently in the budget.
- The $11.1 million required to implement the two-hour transit transfer is also being considered for funding, but not included in the preliminary budget.
- The waiting list for recreation spaces has grown by 74% over the past three years to almost 200,000. Children make up the largest group with swimming, camps and sports programs topping the list.
- Critical programs, like “swim to survive”, that keep kids safe and the reinstatement of two community pools that lost funding in previous years are not included in the preliminary budget.
- Recreation user fees are set to increase again this year by 2.12%, and the Welcome Policy that provides subsidies to help low-income residents take part in recreation programs is being cut back.
- The preliminary budget includes no new funds to address that long waiting list even though City Council passed a motion supporting an expansion of recreation spaces by at least 10,000 (and up to as many as 20,000 if possible within existing programs) in 2018. City Council is considering funding additional recreation spaces but it’s not included in the budget so far.
- A total of $1.1 million is required to fund the additional recreation spaces, swim to survive program, the waterfront lifeguard program, and the reinstatement of two neighbourhood pools.
5) Programs and Initiatives for Promoting Equity
- Toronto City Council has made some important commitments in the past year to support greater equity and inclusion in our city, including passing the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism and supporting the development of an Indigenous Affairs Office at City Hall. The Indigenous Office and anti-black racism plan require $1.5 million to implement in 2018.
- The City has also made a commitment and has a plan to improve diversity within the Toronto Fire Service which does not currently reflect the diverse make-up of the population it serves. The inclusion plan requires $200,000 to implement in 2018.
- The Indigenous Affairs Office, the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, and the Fire Service work are not funded in the preliminary budget. These programs and initiatives are being considered for funding but, so far, are not included in the budget. That’s no way to create an inclusive city.
6) Accessibility and Inclusion for People with Disabilities
- The City of Toronto is required by law to make changes that ensure proper access to City services for people with disabilities under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This work requires $767,800 to be implemented in 2018, but is not included in the preliminary budget.
- Important measures that will help the City improve accessibility for residents with disabilities are being considered for funding but, so far, are not funded. These changes are essential to creating an inclusive city, and required by the legislation.
7) Public Health Programs
- The City committed to a 5-year plan to expand health initiatives under the Toronto Urban Health Fund. The fund supports nonprofit organizations to provide health programs in the areas of HIV prevention, harm reduction (including responding to the opioid crisis) and child and youth resiliency. The City of Toronto only needs to contribute one-quarter of the funds for this program in order to access the remaining three-quarters from the provincial government.
- The Toronto Board of Health has recommended that the City deliver on its commitment to the plan in order to fund new youth and Indigenous health programs. It also recommends that the City commit additional funds to cover one-quarter of costs for new health programs focused on the Black community, with the remainder of the funds available through the provincial government.
- The preliminary budget does not include funding for these initiatives. These initiatives are being considered for funding but are not currently funded. With the provincial government covering most of the costs, the City certainly should commit to these programs. The City contribution is $122,300 for 2018.
- The Toronto Board of Health also recommends the final year of funding to expand the Student Nutrition Program, a key component of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and funds to support student immunization against nine contagious diseases. The majority of funds for the immunization program is available from the provincial government. These initiatives are being considered for funding but not included in the preliminary budget. The Student Nutrition Program cost for the final phase of expansion is $2.1 million, and the City’s cost for the immunization program is $132,600.
8) Public Library Programs
- The Toronto Public Library plays an important role in the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Some actions planned for 2018 but not included in the preliminary budget are the expansion of Sunday service at several locations, expansion of youth hubs – a very popular afterschool homework program in high needs areas, and the expansion of the wi-fi hotspot lending program that allows residents to borrow devices that give them free internet access.
- Funding for these programs is being considered but not included in the preliminary budget. The cost for these programs is $874,000.
9) Action on Climate Change
- Transform TO, the City’s plan to address climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions was passed unanimously by Toronto City Council in 2017. According to a City staff report, $6.7 million needs to be included in the City budget to fund the 2018 workplan activities.
- Some Transform TO initiatives are being considered for funding but, so far, none are included in the budget. The City of Toronto has an important role to play in taking action on climate change.
10) Community Grants to Deliver Services through Nonprofit Organizations
- Under the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP), the City funds nonprofits to provide a variety of community programs and services that advance the City’s priorities.
- The preliminary budget doesn’t include funds to assist organizations with the impact of the minimum wage increase for their workers.
- City staff have also recommended additional funding to support four new projects with a focus on Black youth leadership, building capacity in Indigenous organizations, social development planning for Alexandra Park, and engaging residents and building resident leadership. These projects are under consideration but, so far, funding is not included in the budget. The cost for these initiatives is $450,000.
- Funds for the implementation of the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy are also being considered but not included in the preliminary budget. The cost of this work is $226,100.
City Council has made promises to the people of Toronto to create a better city for all. The preliminary budget fails to deliver on these promises. The City has ample revenue options to fund these vital initiatives, including adopting one or more of the revenue tools available under the City of Toronto Act, reducing the funds taken from the operating budget and put into the capital budget (and taking advantage of low interest rates to borrow for essential capital projects or reducing funds for lavish ones like the Gardiner Expressway), and aligning property tax rate increases with the GTA average.
Now is the time for the Mayor and City Council to deliver on its commitments. Have your say on the 2018 City Budget at the budget hearings on January 8, 9 and 10! Register today. For more information about deputations and how to sign up, check here