Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis impacts, and is of concern to, large parts of the population. It is a matter of human rights. And, for many, it is a survival issue. Lack of stable, suitable housing compromises people’s health and leads to premature mortality. And for those who are unhoused, it is a matter of life and death.
The City Of Toronto's Housing Secretariat and Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) divisions hold primary responsibility at the municipal level to advance the human right to housing, but every level of government has a responsibility to realize this right. Toronto’s housing crisis has resulted from years of neglect and the failure of government at all levels.
We are moving in the wrong direction, with more people struggling with homelessness and lacking access to essentials for survival, shelter, and support. This is what the low-property-tax city looks like:
- Over 81,000 households are on the waiting list for social housing in Toronto.
- 40% of tenant households in the city spend 30% or more of their income on shelter costs, an indicator of housing that is unaffordable.
- As a consequence of a lack of affordable housing, overcrowding is common among tenant households.
- 22,000 people accessed shelters and allied services in 2022. 10,408 people are actively experiencing homelessness.
- 132 shelter residents died in 2021.
- Countless others experience “hidden homelessness.”
So how does the 2023 City budget respond to the housing and homelessness crisis?
Adopted in 2019, the City’s HousingTO 2020–2030 Action Plan aims to approve 40,000 new affordable rental housing units by 2030. Based on affordable housing in the development pipeline, the City anticipates having 30,000 affordable units approved by 2025.
The good news? Over 21,000 units are in development. However, circumstances outside of the control of the City or the Housing Secretariat — rising development costs and higher interest rates — have required substantial revision to existing plans and caused significant delays in the City’s new housing development, resulting in a much lower affordable housing completion rate for 2022 than expected. Projected rates for the next few years are low, at 652 for 2023, and 2,500 each for 2024 and 2025.
And now the City’s ability to create much-needed affordable housing is at risk thanks to the provincial government’s passing of Bill 23. City budget notes state: "The City's ability to continue to deliver on the HousingTO Plan and to fund housing programs is currently at high risk due to the significant financial impacts arising from the recently enacted provincial Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 ('Bill 23'). Specifically, Bill 23 has removed the City's ability to collect development charges for housing services, resulting in an approximate $1.2 billion in lost revenues over 10 years."
The provincial government has promised to make up the revenues lost as a result of Bill 23, on the condition that the City submit to an independent audit of its books. These funds are needed in full, and immediately, to support affordable housing development. If the Province does not keep its promise, the City’s already under-resourced housing plan is in jeopardy.
Furthermore, the City’s ability to deepen the level of subsidy on HousingTO units to make them accessible to people living in deep poverty depends largely on provincial and federal funding. The City should have some plan in case the Province and Feds do not come through — e.g., dedicating some municipal revenue source towards deepening affordability — to ensure that the people who most need these units have access.
Other housing-related budget highlights
How is this budget responding to the immediate, survival needs of people who are unhoused or at risk of homelessness? How is it providing more affordable housing, particularly for those who are living in deepest poverty?
- Nothing for the expansion of emergency warming centres. 24/7 warming centres must be an immediate priority to save lives. Toronto’s Board of Health recently adopted a motion recognizing that the systemic failure of all three levels of government to provide adequate 24-hour, drop-in, and respite spaces indoors is a public health crisis.
- Not enough funding for shelter beds. The City has identified shelter occupancy at 98-99%, and staff have acknowledged there aren’t enough beds. The budget funds only 9,000 beds — not enough to meet the need.
- Only 100 new Rent Bank grants. The Rent Bank program provides grants to residents who are behind on their rent or need help with a deposit. The budget funds 2,400 Rent Bank grants in both 2023 and 2024, only 100 more than the 2,300 (projected) provided in 2022. Rent Bank is a successful and much-needed program. The City should expand funding for it.
- $1M for EPIC, but let’s do better. The Housing Secretariat’s Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program helps households at risk of eviction and homelessness keep their homes. The budget includes a $1.048 million increase, resulting in a total budget of approximately $7 million for EPIC. The City has said the increase will double the reach of the program, from 600 households budgeted for in 2022 to a projected 1,200 households in both 2023 and 2024. If $1 million can double this effective program’s reach, let’s put more in and reach far more households. Better partnerships with community agencies would also help increase uptake of this program.
- Only modest increases in the number of Rent-Geared-to-Income subsidies. The City projects 70,900 subsidies in 2023 and 71,700 in 2024, up from 70,300 (projected) in 2022. RGI subsidies are the quickest route to making housing more affordable. The City should significantly expand the program’s reach with additional funding.
- MURA funding below levels needed. Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition (MURA) is a program that creates new affordable nonprofit housing from the existing rental market housing stock, reduces reliance on the private market, and creates affordable housing more quickly than building new units. The budget includes $18.85 million for MURA in 2023 — about $15 million in unspent funds brought forward from previous years, and $3 million new dollars — and a projected $7 million (new dollars) in 2024. Council passed a motion asking staff to identify a funding source to provide $10 million each year for the program. Meanwhile, the City should put at least an additional $7 million into MURA this year.
- Funding for Multi-Tenant Housing by-laws. The budget includes $3.5 million in funding to implement the Multi-Tenant Housing (rooming house) by-laws, approved in December 2022 and coming into effect on March 31, 2024. Affordable housing advocates were happy to see this regulatory framework passed after decades of advocacy. The framework makes this form of deeply affordable housing legal now across the city. We will dive deeper into the budgetary needs of implementing this important framework over the next year.
What more should the City do?
The City needs to do everything within its power to respond to the housing and homelessness crisis. It needs to create or expand access to affordable and supportive housing. It needs to deepen affordability for those living in poverty in any new or acquired housing. It needs to protect renters and prevent homelessness. And it needs to provide for people who are unhoused and at risk in terms of survival and health. Some immediate solutions in addition to the budget actions noted above:
- It could prioritize the development of deeply affordable housing by combining housing subsidies and housing benefits to deepen affordability for those living in deep poverty;
- It could raise revenues, e.g., through an increase to the vacant homes tax, a luxury homes tax, and an annual property tax increase over the rate of inflation (had such steps been take in previous years the City could have generated tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of dollars);
- It could ensure that the long-awaited Office of the Housing Commissioner is fully funded in this budget (at present, the City has plans to advance this work but there’s no mention of funding to support it in 2023); and
- It could put pressure on provincial and federal governments to step up. The Housing Secretariat budget notes clearly illustrate that neither are doing their fair share. The Province needs to put up the $48 million the City needs to cover operating costs associated with supportive housing, and the Feds need to put up the $97 million related to temporary shelter for refugees. The City shouldn’t have to ask for these funds every year; if the City is to meaningfully advance the right to housing it needs sustainable, long-term arrangements with the provincial and federal governments for sufficient and reliable funding.
Housing is intricately connected with safety, health, wellbeing, and poverty. The choice to make meaningful investments in tackling the housing and homelessness crisis will have positive impacts on each of these areas as well.
Many thanks to housing and policy expert and researcher Greg Suttor for his excellent budget analysis on housing and homelessness issues that has informed this post.
Photo by Usamah Khan on Unsplash
1. Housing problems disproportionately impact Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities, newcomers, and lone-parent families led by women. ^
2. Those who are actively experiencing homelessness includes everyone who has used shelter services at least once in the past three months and was not recorded as exiting to permanent housing. ^
3. The “hidden homeless” live temporarily with others and lack a permanent home. Toronto figures are not available, but about 15% of Ontarians responsible for housing decisions within their households have experienced hidden homelessness. ^
4. Includes 18,000 supportive housing units and 10,000 affordable/supportive units dedicated to women and girls, and women-led households. ^
5. “Projected” means that figures had not been confirmed at the time that a budget note was written. ^
6. The actual projected reach of the program for 2022 is 681. ^