2020 City Budget: Housing & Homelessness - A City in Crisis, Partner & Media Analysis, and More

In this City Budget Watch post, we look at the city's affordable housing and homelessness crisis and the 2020 budget, share the latest budget analysis from partners and media, and connect you with City of Toronto budget resources.



The city's affordable housing and homelessness crisis has intensified over the decade. SPT's "Toronto After a Decade of Austerity" report uses 20 indicators to assess the state of the city at the end of the '10s. By every measure, the housing situation is dire.



The numbers reflect a grim reality of a worsening crisis over the decade. Three City budgets are of particular importance to housing and homelessness issues: Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, Housing Secretariat, and Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

1) Shelter, Support and Housing Administration manages emergency shelter and homeless services, provides oversight for 250 housing providers, and administers a variety of housing-related programs including housing allowances. The SSHA budget includes the following new and enhanced services:

  • Adding 8 street outreach workers which will support the expansion of services "during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts by reaching more clients and responding to more concerned citizen calls." Council directed this expansion of service in response to coroner's recommendations from the Faulkner and Chapman inquests. In 2015, Grant Faulkner died of smoke inhalation. He was sleeping in a plywood shelter behind a Scarborough business when it caught fire. Also in 2015, Brad Chapman died of an opioid overdose in a downtown Toronto hotel. Among other traumas, both men experienced a great deal of precarity in their housing situations. The coroner's inquests into their deaths resulted in dozen of recommendations with implications for Toronto City Council and other orders of government. Funding: $805,500 gross + net.
  • Adding 2 temporary housing consultant positions "for a duration of 3 years to support the implementation of the "Housing Now" initiative." According to the City website, "Housing Now is an initiative to activate 11 City-owned sites for the development of affordable housing within mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities." "The housing consultants will provide post-occupancy and administrative expertise to the Housing Secretariat to ensure that projects are sustainable and assets remain viable over the term of the 99-year agreements." Funding: $291,500 gross ($0 net; fully funded from the City Building Fund).

Eviction prevention expansion not included in the budget: In response to the coroner's recommendations from the Faulkner and Chapman inquests (read bullet point above for details), at its October 2 and 3, 2019 meeting, City Council passed the following motion: "City Council request the General Manager, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration to include in the Division's 2020 base Budget submission, $100,000 in community grant funding, an additional 8 street outreach workers, and the business case to expand the Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program; required to implement the recommendations from the Coroner's Inquests into the deaths of Grant Faulkner and Bradley Chapman.”

Most of the motion has been implemented except for the eviction prevention expansion. The SSHA budget notes indicate that the expansion of the Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program has been referred to the budget process but not included in the budget. No business case has been provided at present but a briefing note is being prepared on this program. EPIC currently supports 300 households.

We're glad to provide a business case for the expansion of this vital program: Read this evaluation report on EPIC that was conducted by external evaluators for the City of Toronto. The evaluation report concludes: "Our results illustrate the tremendous impact of eviction prevention efforts, as the EPIC model of programming was effective in stabilizing the housing of clients who were at-risk of eviction. Through financial and case management supports, advocacy, and system navigation, EPIC staff were able to prevent the eviction of the vast majority of their clients and keep their housing."

According to the budget notes, funding needed for expansion of this highly effective eviction prevention program is $2.1559 million gross + net. Let's get this funded.

The budget notes also indicate that the City will not be meeting its target of expanding the shelter system to add 1,000 new beds by 2020; Council voted to add the beds over 3 years, concluding in 2020. The target date has been delayed to 2022. SSHA expects to have 744 of the 1,000 beds this year, including 143 new beds in 3 sites. The budget notes indicate that the delay is due to "challenging real estate market, sites and shifting construction schedules". Further to this point, "issues such as the development of sites that are dependent upon the completion of another, and the development of a site that is in partnership with another city division, are examples that have contributed to this extended timeline." The City has awarded a master service agreement to consultants to deal with much of the design and construction oversight for the new shelters.

There are also delays on the George Street Revitalization due to "unforseen remedial work for transitional sites"; "GSR has been delayed pending the acquisition of appropriate shelter sites for transition...the GSR main sub-project has been delayed due to ongoing discussions between the City of Toronto and Infrastructure Ontario regarding the go-forward approach for procurement and delivery of the GSR project." The GSR is about a year behind schedule.

The SSHA budget includes a $77 million hole. City staff anticipate that the federal government will provide these funds to cover the costs related to providing shelter and homeless services for individuals and families who are refugees. Budget Chief Gary Crawford stated that he is "fairly confident" that the federal government will come through with the funds. It provided $45 million to cover similar costs in 2019. If funds are not provided, the City will need to use reserve funding to cover the cost. 

Despite some expansion of services, the SSHA budget notes paint a bleak picture of an ongoing and intensifying shelter crisis (not to mention, homelessness crisis). City staff have noted that they expect it to be harder this year to find affordable housing for individuals and households in shelters or on the social housing waiting list as a result of an extremely low vacancy rate. 

Some grounds for hope: In December 2019, the federal and provincial government committed $1.4 billion over eight years to fund the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit, a centrepiece of the federal government's National Housing Strategy. Toronto is expected to receive about $7.5 million for this program in 2020-21, the first installment of this 8-year program. Program details are to be ironed out. Read our report on portable housing benefits and lessons from the U.S. experience.

Last year, Toronto City Council passed HousingTO, its 10-year affordable housing action plan. Rather than passing another plan that's success is almost entirely dependent on senior orders of government, City Council through the Housing Now initiative has dedicated land from 11 City-owned properties for the development of residential housing, of which a portion will be affordable. It has also taken the important step of increasing the City Building Fund, a property tax levy, and committed to increases over the next six years which will allow the City to borrow $6.6 billion for public transit and housing infrastructure. The City also continues to forgo revenue by waiving various permit and development fees to facilitate the construction of affordable housing.

We've got quite a distance to travel to address the city's housing and homelessness crisis. Meanwhile, shelters are full and people are left to sleep in respite centres, drop-ins, and ravines, and our neighbours are dying.


2) The Housing Secretariat has three key areas of responsibility: affordable housing development, housing improvement programs, and housing policy and partnerships. According to the City, "the Affordable Housing Office was transformed into the new Housing Secretariat in 2019, along with an expanded scope of work and responsibilities including the new "Housing Now" initiative, Laneway Suites programs and oversight of Toronto Community Housing revitalization projects." 

According to the Housing Secretariat budget notes, 300 units of affordable rental housing are expected to be completed in 2020. Note that the definition of affordable is based on average market rents. Budget documents do not indicate how many, if any, are rent-geared-to-income for low income tenants. The budget notes do not include targets for new affordable rental housing approvals. City staff will be coming forward with an implementation plan that will include targets and timelines in June.

The budget indicates the number of new affordable rental units currently under development and anticipated in future years: 8,660 in 2020, 8,360 in 2021, and 6,787 in 2022. The number of units identified are considerably higher than in previous years. For example, the number of affordable rental housing units completed during the whole previous decade (2010-2019) was projected to be 4,093 by the end of December 2019.

This budget includes $450,000 (gross from the City's tax stabilization reserve fund) for new and enhanced services, specifically: "Funding to hire consultants to advance the delivery of the HousingTO 2020 – 2030 by developing a plan for accessing third-party capital, possibly from foundations and pension funds to finance the development of affordable rental housing." Further details include: "Consultants will be retained to establish detailed costing and implementation plans for the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan by Q2-2020; develop a plan for accessing third-party capital possibly from foundations and pension funds to finance the development of affordable rental housing; and support revitalization planning for existing affordable housing units pursuant to the implementation of the HousingTO Plan."


3) Toronto Community Housing is the largest social housing provider in Canada and the second largest in North America. It is wholly owned by the City of Toronto and run as a non-profit. For the first time ever, senior staff with Toronto Community Housing presented the TCH budget to the City's Budget Committee and TCH budget notes were prepared as part of the City's budget documentation. This move to bring the TCH budget more directly into the City's budget process has been useful in increasing transparency and understanding regarding the TCH budget and the relationship between the City and TCH as its corporation.

After decades of chronic underfunding and neglect by various orders of government - a situation that has weighed heavily on tenants - TCH is turning a corner. A TCH senior staffperson opened her presentation to the Budget Committee, commenting that the 2020 budget is "one of the best things that has ever happened to Toronto Community Housing”. Now that's not something you hear every day.

For many years, TCH had a massive repair backlog which jeopardized tenant homes. Due to a lack of funding, many tenant homes in poor condition were shuttered. During that period, staff regularly issued warnings that even more homes were at risk due to inadequate funding.

In recent years, temporary funding was provided to bridge the gap to keep homes from being closed up, but it wasn't until this year that a long-term solution came together. Two key funding commitments have changed the course for TCH: the City of Toronto established a permanent funding arrangement with TCH which included $160 million annually for the TCH capital plan, as well as, increased ongoing operating subsidy funds, and the federal government, using its co-investment fund, has provided $1.34 billion, including $530 million in grants and $810 million in loans. As a result of the new capital funding, TCH's 10-year capital plan is fully funded. Staff expect the repair backlog to be addressed by 2026.

TCH has also been working to fill vacant units more quickly. For example, staff are working closely with Shelter, Support and Housing to fill 220 bachelor units which would help house people who are homeless and/or on the social housing waiting list. (note: In an earlier version of this post, I stated that the 220 bachelor units had been in a state of poor repair and had been fixed; however, that was an error. The vacancies were not related to dwelling condition but rather the need for a better process to fill units more quickly.)


Photo credit: Tenants for Social Housing

Congratulations to the tenant advocates that worked hard to push all orders of government to take action to save and safeguard their homes. It has been a difficult fight.  

Also of note, the TCH budget includes $11.8 million in efficiencies including "$1.93 million in savings related to the elimination of head-office management positions and the conversion of a more streamlined reporting structure", $2.25 million from some technology changes, $6.27 million "resulting from tenant education in energy efficient behaviour and energy efficient capital improvements", and $550,000 related to workflow improvements.

The TCH budget includes $21.596 million in new and enhanced services including:

  • increases to demand maintenance ($5.704 million),
  • "enhancing the speed and coverage of front line operations" ($5 million), ["the addition of 116 positions will increase staff coverage in communities based on need, decentralize operations to enable front-line staff to address tenant and building needs more quickly, expand evening and weekend superintendent, cleaning and maintenance services, and establish the new tenant resolutions office and re-establishing the role of Chief Operating Officer"]
  • "addressing termite issues" ($1.177 million), [to address year 1 of termite issues at approximately 1,100 TCHC addresses]
  • "increasing preventative fire safety inspections required through regulations" ($1.3 million),
  • "increasing the coverage of the Community Safety Unit and engaging high risk youth through Tenant Community Services part of the violence reduction program" ($4.747 million), ["the addition of 30 positions will enable TCHC to proactively manage the escalating violence at TCHC locations through the expansion of two programs: 1) Community Safety Unit, and 2) Tenant Community Safety. The Community Safety Unit will temporarily add additional third party security at high incident sites until Special Constables are fully trained and will implement a competitive wage schedule to reduce staff turnover rates. Tenant Community Services will target the 26,000 youth living in TCHC by developing youth action plans, as well as employment, addiction and mental health services to engage high risk youth"] and
  • "implementation of the seniors integrated service model to enhance services for seniors and improve occupancy rates" ($3.668 million) [the addition of 40 staff will support the pilot implementation of the Integrated Service Model for 18 buildings, as well as improve tenant service and occupancy rates to meet operational needs (target is to reduce vacancy from approximately 2.4% to 1.0%)"]

HousingTO, the City's 10-year affordable housing action plan, calls for the establishment of a Housing Commissioner. What's that all about? "The HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan proposes that the City take concrete actions to combat housing discrimination, review the City's programs and policies to ensure Toronto is fulfilling its responsibilities, and to ensure that the City's Policy as stated in the Toronto Housing Charter is realized. The Action Plan also provides for the appointment of a Housing Commissioner of Toronto to oversee the City's work in this area.

As a first step, the Housing Commissioner of Toronto, will work with City divisions, agencies, boards and commissions to review housing programs and policies to ensure that they align with and advance the principles expressed in the Toronto Housing Charter and support their implementation over the next decade. Additionally, the Housing Commissioner of Toronto will monitor the progress in consultation with groups vulnerable to housing insecurity and report annually to City Council regarding systemic issues related to the City’s compliance with the Toronto Housing Charter."

With the adoption of the HousingTO Action Plan, City Council moved a motion requesting "the City Manager to review and report to Council by the third quarter of 2020 with options to establish a Housing Commissioner role or function to independently assess implementation of the revised Toronto Housing Charter and the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan and ensure that the City, within its legislative authorities, and through implementation of various programs and policies, is taking concrete actions to combat systematic housing discrimination and address systemic hurdles in the housing system."

Staff say the funding for the Housing Commissioner will be considered in the 2021 budget.

TCH also plans to launch a new Service Quality Indicator system in the Spring to measure its performance on a quarterly basis for every TCH community and will be reported publicly. Tenant reps will be part of the reporting process. The indicators refer to cleaning, safety, building maintenance, support and community service, community engagement, and communication.


Raising funds for affordable housing: SPT's report encouraged City Council to adopt new revenue tools to raise funds for housing and other city priorities. There are many options available to City Council. We identified two that could be included in the 2020 budget to support housing specifically: a tax on vacant homes and an increase to the City's Municipal Land Transfer Tax for luxury homes. Both seem to be quite popular and gaining momentum.

You can help to increase funding for affordable housing by:

  • Signing the Progress Toronto petition which calls on City Council to implement the vacant homes tax
  • Contacting your City Councillor to share your views on the housing crisis and the 2020 City budget

Read more about revenue tools in these reports and articles: 



Gender Equity

Public Transit

Climate Emergency

  • Toronto Environmental Alliance: In October, Toronto declared a Climate Emergency - and promised accelerated action to make Toronto zero-carbon by 2050. A first test of the City’s commitment is the 2020 City Budget, which was released last week. Read TEA’s assessment - and find out how to get involved in the budget process.

Toronto Public Library

Affordable Housing & Homelessness

  • Shelter & Housing Justice Network call for action on the city's affordable housing and homeless crisis

Watch Monday & Tuesday's budget deputations and all of the City's budget meetings on the Toronto City Council youtube channel.
Check out a full list of media coverage on the 2020 City budget on our City Budget Watch home page.



Find all of the City's budget presentations, budget notes, and briefing notes here

Did you miss Budget Chief Gary Crawford and Councillor and former Budget Chief Shelley Carroll's "Political Blind Date" on Tuesday night? When Councillor Crawford organized the "date", he decided to take Councillor Carroll to Scarborough; when it was Councillor Carroll's turn, she took Councillor Crawford to New York City to show him how world-class cities are built with revenue tools. Watch all of the city finance action on TVO online and catch the Councillors' interview with Steve Paikin on the Agenda.


Next up ... 

  • January 27: TTC board meeting - included on the agenda: TTC’s 2020-2029 Key Capital Investment Priorities (City Hall, Committee Room 2 at 1 p.m. or watch on the TTC's youtube channel)
  • January 28: Budget Committee wrap up - receives briefing notes and staff reports (City Hall, Committee Room 1 at 9:30 a.m. or watch on the Toronto City Council youtube channel)
  • February 4: Budget Committee final wrap up - receives briefing notes and staff reports, move motions to make changes to the budget, and finalize its work on the 2020 budget (City Hall, Committee Room 1 at 9:30 a.m. or watch on the Toronto City Council youtube channel)
  • February 13: Executive Committee meets for a one-day budget review and to move motions to make changes to the budget. (City Hall, Committee Room 1 at 9:30 a.m. or watch on the Toronto City Council youtube channel)
  • February 19: Toronto City Council meets for budget review and to make final decisions on the 2020 City budget. (City Hall, Council Chambers at 9:30 a.m. or watch on the Toronto City Council youtube channel)
  • Lots of upcoming budget events happening across the city! Find all the details on the City Budget Watch home page
  • More budget analysis on the way.
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