Deputations to Toronto City Council on the Proposed 2009 Operating Budget
Community Social Planning Council of Toronto
Madam Chair, Committee Members:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today on behalf of the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, a non-profit organization whose over 150 agency members reflect the diversity of Toronto’s vital community sector. Our mission is to improve the quality of life of all residents of Toronto, a mission which we pursue through research and community mobilization.
The Council also plays an informal convening role for the community sector in Toronto, and it was in this role that we provided an opportunity, last week, for representatives of some forty agencies to come together to review the draft operating budget and craft a broad, shared response.
The consensus from that discussion was that the City Budget Committee had succeeded in crafting a budget that, overall, struck an appropriate balance between maintaining important services, making some strategic enhancements, while not dramatically increasing the tax burden on either residents or businesses in Toronto. Participants lauded the City for the commitment to maintaining transit fares at their current levels, and to enhanced service, noting that other barriers to accessing services are often multiplied by a lack of accessible, affordable transportation.
At a time when the global economic crisis is having an impact on growing numbers of Torontonians, there was a sense of relief, if not pride, that our City was choosing to maintain, and not cut, the range of services that people count on when they fall on hard times. There is appreciation for the fact that the City has recognized that its community partners face the same cost increases as programs operated by the City – the economic factor increase means that the erosion of community programs resulting from a decade of flatlining has finally been stemmed, if not yet reversed.
We also saw reasons for optimism, in what are admittedly bleak economic times. The increased commitment to student nutrition programs is an important step, and we would encourage the City to expand on its commitment at the earliest possible opportunity. Money spent on buying and preparing food for children in local schools is an investment that pays many dividends – improved educational outcomes, increased community engagement of parents and families in their schools and communities, and, importantly at this particular time, putting additional money into local communities, supporting efforts by all levels of government to stimulate the economy.
We are excited by the City’s commitment to the development of a comprehensive Community Partnerships Strategy – the City has a vital role to play in supporting and nurturing our community infrastructure. We look forward to partnering in the development of a strategy that will achieve more equitable and consistent access to community services provided in partnership with the City. Development of this strategy over the next year will establish a strong foundation for further progress in this area.
We recognize that this is a challenging time for all levels of government – in particular for municipal governments that have a limited range of revenue streams, and that have to respond to factors such as the social assistance caseload that are largely beyond their control. We also recognize that the 2009 budget in some areas ‘dodges the bullet’, and that the 2010 budget process will be much more challenging if other levels of government do not step up to the plate to provide support in areas such as childcare and transit. From this perspective, a 2009 budget that anticipates the increasing demand for social assistance and other services, yet maintains overall property tax rates at very close to the inflation rate, can be seen as a significant, positive accomplishment.
The Community Social Planning Council of Toronto believes that the budget which has been tabled, while not perfect, is a responsive, responsible approach to maintaining and strengthening the quality of life in our city. Thank you for the care and effort you have put into crafting it, and again, my thanks for the opportunity to address you today.
Community Social Planning Council of Toronto
Toronto Neighbourhood Centres
Good morning committee members,
Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today.
I am speaking on behalf of the Toronto Neighbourhood Centres - an association of 32 neighbourhood centres located in communities across our City. These neighbourhood centres deliver programs and services to over 100,000 individuals each year, and they mobilize thousands of volunteers and local residents to improve the safety, health and well being of local neighbourhoods.
Residents and volunteers from a number of our member agencies have signed up to depute today. You will hear details from them about the impact of the city’s investments, and the work of community agencies in their neighbourhoods.
My remarks are more generalized.
First, we would like to congratulate the Budget Committee on the proposed 2009 operating budget. These are not easy times, and we feel you have made the right choices – to safeguard and strengthen services so that vulnerable community members can be supported through these difficult days. Our ailing economy is having a significant impact on many individuals and families – with rising job losses, increased food bank use, insecurity and deepening poverty for more and more households.
We know that these trends also create significant financial stresses for the City’s operating budget, with diminished revenues from taxes, and demands for services climbing. In this context it might have been easier politically to hold the line on tax increases, and cut services to balance the books. Instead you have chosen to raise taxes by 4% - or 25 cents a day – from those who still have something to contribute, to keep the services that we all depend upon – and to strengthen specific supports for those who are most affected by this economic downturn.
So we applaud you for taking this more difficult, but also more hopeful path. We think that this investment today will pay off in better futures for our communities, and particularly for our youth who are coming of age through these difficult times.
We are also excited to see that the budget maintains a commitment to the City’s new Community Partnerships Strategy. This process over the coming year will help communities to establish meaningful benchmarks and investment targets for services – with the goal of ensuring that every neighbourhood in our city has the basic building blocks to achieve inclusion and equity – community supports that ensure all residents have access to opportunities and can play their part in shaping our shared prosperity.
At the present time, community nonprofit organizations work alongside the City of Toronto to achieve impacts in a number of services areas including after-school programs, daycare, housing and homelessness, employment services, youth programs, seniors supports, and community development. Over the years Toronto has crafted this unique mixed model of service delivery, where the City and community organizations pool their complementary strengths, and collaborate in ways that promote innovation, create local capacity, and make sure that services reach all members of our diverse and ever-changing communities.
We are pleased that the 2009 operating budget includes a number of immediate actions that the City will take to assist community members who are most impacted by the worsening economy. But the City cannot meet these challenges alone.
We must also find ways to engage community leaders, families, neighbourhood groups, local businesses and community organizations in the task of re-shaping our economy so that it provides us with an equitable, inclusive and sustainable path forward.
We thank the Budget Committee for using the 2009 Operating Budget to shape a foundation that we can build upon together. And we would like to re-commit ourselves to working effectively with the City to engage communities in ways that will help us find creative solutions to the significant challenges ahead.
Toronto Neighbourhood Centres
Toronto Drop-In Network
My name is Eileen Shannon. I am a member of the Steering Committee of the Toronto Drop-in Network and I am here to tell you about the important work that the Toronto Drop in Network and its member agencies all across the City do. Toronto Drop-in Network agencies serve members of the community who are most likely to be affected by the recession – men and women living on social assistance or very low incomes, some living on our streets or in shelters, in social housing or private rental accommodation, such as rooming houses.
We appreciate that the budget recognizes the need for the City to maintain supports to the most vulnerable, and we feel that the 4 % increase in property tax is a very reasonable increase to ensure that these services remain in place.
Drop-ins provide much more than a place to go to get out of the cold and get a meal, although that is important too. The men and women who come to drop-ins also get help to find and keep housing, and to get support for the many challenges that they face every day, such as poverty, substance use, and mental health issues. They are places where people can build a community of peers, gain strength and support each other. This peer support can help to repair the damage done by social isolation or the feeling that there is no place in the world for you. Drop-in participants learn and use peer support skills that are very valuable, and can be used in the community at large after the drop-in closes for the day.
The City of Toronto Drop-in review pointed out the high levels of volunteer activity in drop-ins. Many people who use drop-ins also volunteer their time to cook meals, clean, plan events and lead peer groups. In fact, many drop-ins couldn’t keep going without the work that these member volunteers contribute. Volunteer contributions to drop-in programs multiply the value of every dollar invested in drop-ins by a factor of 4.
We are glad that the City has increased it’s funding to the City department that funds drop-ins, and we want the City to continue to increase its support to community based drop-ins, and the Network that supports them. Streets to Homes is an important program, but it is one of many programs responding to the crisis of homelessness and poverty. There is a need for long term support to help people stay connected, stay housed and to enjoy the kind of quality of life that everyone deserves. Drop-ins provide that.
The Toronto Drop-in Network has been very involved in calling for housing for all. There is a huge need for more affordable housing, and we are concerned to see in the budget that there is a decrease in funding for the Affordable Housing Office. We'd like you to look at that and make sure that the city meets its goals for increasing the availability of affordable housing.
If the 4 % increase in property taxes is necessary to make sure that Toronto drop-ins stay open, and that more people have a home, then it’s a small price to pay. For the average homeowner this amounts to about $83 per year. Many people would spend at least that on coffee in a few months. It's also important to remember that people like many of our drop-in members, who live in rental accommodation, also pay property taxes, and in fact , pay about 3 x more than homeowners as landlords pass their property tax increases along in the form of higher rents. So we all contribute to the cost of maintaining important social services like drop-ins. I understand there has been a new proposal to lower the amount of the property tax increase by raising TTC fares. I ask you to reject this solution, as it will impact on the least well off members of our community, who rely on the TTC to get around the City.
So, in closing, I ask you to support this budget and thank you for the chance to speak to you today.
St. Stephen's Community House
My name is Tracey Rees. I am a resident of Toronto and a volunteer on the Board of Directors of St. Stephen’s Community House. I am deputing today in support of this budget.
St. Stephen’s Community House is a multiservice agency in downtown west Toronto serving the most vulnerable members of our community. In this time of economic crisis, we are in the neighbourhoods helping people look for employment, helping working parents with childcare, providing permanent housing to homeless people, helping newcomers to learn English and employment skills, helping people living in poverty with food and information and supports.
St. Stephen’s supports this budget because it also supports the most vulnerable people in our city. A major theme of this budget is “Toronto Helps”. Toronto will help more people on social assistance and people seeking employment. Toronto will help more more seniors and people who are homeless who are hungry and isolated. Toronto will help more people who will need the TTC and people who need community services like ours.
We do recognize that this vital help costs money and we endorse the 4% increase in property taxes in the budget, along with the proposed Property Tax Increase Deferral and Cancellation programs for 90,000 low income households. This is the cost of helping our neighbours in this very troubled economic times.
Let me add briefly that as a property tax payer in the City of Toronto, I also personally endorse the 4% tax increase.
I would like to introduce you to Winnie Qiu, one of our English students at St. Stephen’s Community House who can tell you how the city helps her family.
Hello my name is Winnie Qiu. I have come from China on October 21, 2008 with my family - my parents, my younger sister and my younger brother. I am very glad to be here in Canada and in Toronto. For now, I am not working. I am on social assistance and learning English, along with both of my parents. I am learning as fast as I can and attend two classes every day in the daytime and in the evening. I need the TTC to get to classes and I don’t have much money. Soon, I will be applying to go to university. My father is an electrician.
My brother is younger than me and in school. He wants to make friends in Toronto and to do well in school. It is not easy for him. He needs a youth centre after school to get help and we worry about paying recreation fees.
My parents have had problems with their landlord, but we found a community centre where we can get information and help. They hope to get a better apartment soon, but finding good housing is difficult.
The city is important in our lives. Social Assistance -- TTC -- Affordable housing -- Employment help -- Youth Services -- Community Centres. These are important to our family.
We want to do well in Canada and we are glad to live in this city.