Today, Social Planning Toronto sent a letter to Mayor John Tory summarizing what we heard over the course of three City budget–focussed events we hosted in January.
At those events, more than 300 organizational partners, grassroots groups, and residents shared their thoughts, concerns, and struggles related to the 2023 budget. These Torontonians overwhelmingly stated that the 2023 City budget falls short. It does not address our city's multiple crises, nor the major challenges that residents across the city are facing. We've urged Mayor Tory to revise the budget to prioritize the key actions that residents and community organizations are looking for.
You can read the full text of the letter below.
People are telling us that they aren’t being heard by the Mayor and other decision-makers, and that they are worried that the new strong mayor powers will marginalize community voices even further. Let’s continue to make sure our voices are loud and clear. Beneath our letter, you'll find a Call to Action. Help us tell Mayor Tory and Council to have a heart!
Dear Mayor John Tory:
I am writing on behalf of more than 300 organizational partners, grassroots groups, and residents that we met with through three City budget–focussed events that Social Planning Toronto (SPT) hosted in January. As not all stakeholders were able to participate in the truncated budget process this year, nor able to present to the Budget Committee last week, we summarize their thoughts, concerns, and struggles related to the 2023 budget here.
Across the board, these stakeholders stated that the 2023 City budget falls short of addressing Toronto’s multiple crises and the major challenges that residents across our city are facing right now. As you develop your budget, we urge you to revise the budget to prioritize the following key actions that residents and community organizations are calling for. Much of these actions align with the motion the Budget Committee unanimously passed that recommends that you consider revising the budget to focus on investments in programs for vulnerable communities, transit, climate goals, and violence prevention.
Adequately respond to Toronto’s homelessness, mental health, and addiction crisis.
When we asked participants in SPT’s Our City, Our Budget event to share the issues most important to them in the budget, a glaring concern was the dire need for housing, including deeply affordable and accessible housing, along with homelessness supports.
Residents — especially marginalized, low-income residents including ODSP recipients — are struggling to stay in their homes and communities due to the lack of affordable and safe housing. Participants called for greater investments in existing programs including the MURA (Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition) program to create new affordable nonprofit housing and preserve Toronto’s existing rental housing stock. They also called for an increase in funding for eviction prevention programs such as EPIC (Eviction Prevention in the Community) to keep people in their homes. As more and more people are pushed into homelessness amidst already inadequate supports, stakeholders called for increased shelter beds, designated safe spaces for encampments, and 24/7 winter warming centres. Participants talked about how more people than ever have died, and are at risk of dying, this winter without further investment in homelessness supports.
The inability to fully address our city’s housing and homelessness crisis threatens people’s safety, health, wellbeing, and lives — especially for youth and seniors, who are in high need. Stakeholders shared that mental health services and recreational programming to engage youth and seniors should also be budget priorities.
Address the need for improved public transit access and service.
We heard numerous calls for investments to improve TTC service, make the system more accessible, and increase safety for both workers and riders — but we did not hear any call for more policing. Instead, participants noted that service cuts will make transit less safe.
Service cuts mean 10-minute off-peak wait times and greater congestion. Families will have less time together, precarious workers will have a harder time getting to shifts at odd hours, and commuters’ mental health will be negatively affected. All of this, plus a 10-cent fare increase, will only discourage people from taking public transit. Residents, especially marginalized residents who rely on public transit to get around the city, are being asked to pay more for less service at a time when increased investments and service are needed to lure riders back.
Advance our commitments to climate action and build a more sustainable city.
In the context of a climate emergency, residents are asking for more investments in climate mitigation and adaptation in order to build a sustainable and climate-resilient city. The budget prioritizes vehicular traffic including via the rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway. This does not align with the City’s own TransformTO targets. The City needs to instead incentivize residents to use public transit and invest in alternative modes of transportation including cycling.
Toronto residents have expressed a desire to create community gardens and want the City to make City spaces available for that or fund dedicated spaces within communities and schools. Gardening and harvesting food is a meaningful activity that supports mental health, addresses isolation and fosters a sense of community, tackles food insecurity, and builds residents’ transferable skills.
Prioritize community-based violence prevention, safety, and crisis response programs.
Participants were surprised about the significant and disproportionate increase of $48 million to the police budget. Many residents and organizations recognized the importance of community safety and a need for the City to address increased violence. But they do not want policing of poverty and homelessness — they want money put into addressing the root causes of violence and poverty. As one participant put it,
We don't need more police; we need more programs to reduce the violence. Putting more police on the streets addresses the symptoms but doesn't address the root cause of the problems. The root causes are loneliness, mental health, lack of community, lack of connection with nature.
Our partners recommend tailored responses to crises, including investing in community responses and services for violence prevention, and expanding the Toronto Community Crisis Services pilot. Many stakeholders asked that the City defund or reallocate a portion of the police budget in order to sufficiently fund critical services and community wellness programs that actually make the city safer and more livable. These funds need to go to crime prevention, youth supports, and mental health supports for youth and families.
Additional key areas: CPIP, child care, Reconciliation, and gender equity
Community-based nonprofit agencies delivering community services, including those supported by the City’s Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP), are a crucial support — increasing safety and well-being, keeping people housed, addressing poverty, and increasing access to critical services and vaccines throughout the pandemic.
Community agency staff talked about the challenges facing the sector in supporting communities during these difficult times. In the midst of increased demand for services, a pandemic taking a great toll financially and emotionally on agencies and staff supporting marginalized communities, a sector HR crisis, and record-high inflation, this year’s CPIP funding freeze represents a cut for a sector already at the brink. This contradicts the City’s own For Public Benefit Framework.
Additionally, participants talked about the need for the City to continue to step up around child care. While the $10-a-day federal program is a big win for everyone, there are still too many families who will not be able to access a space and many who will still not have access to the program.
Participants also talked about City strategies and plans that get approved with not enough funds to fully implement them. They called for fully funded strategies including the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Reconciliation Action Plan, and the upcoming Gender Equity Strategy.
We’ve encountered many residents and organizations who are eager to get involved in the budget process but want a process that offers more time. Nonetheless, this year’s tight timeline did not stop hundreds of people from engaging in the City budget. We envision a transformation of the process to expand access and put communities at the centre of City budget decision-making.
At this time, Toronto needs a leader who will listen, take ideas from people, and allow their constituents to participate in the decision-making process. Please listen to the people of Toronto. We are calling on you to invest in a Toronto that is liveable for all — a Toronto that prioritizes affordability, accessibility, sustainability, equality, safety, and well-being.
Executive Director, Social Planning Toronto
On behalf of 300 stakeholders
CC: Councillor Vincent Crisanti
Councillor Stephen Holyday
Councillor Amber Morley
Councillor Gord Perks
Councillor Frances Nunziata
Councillor James Pasternak
Councillor Anthony Perruzza
Councillor Mike Colle
Councillor Alejandra Bravo
Councillor Ausma Malik
Councillor Dianne Saxe
Councillor Josh Matlow
Councillor Chris Moise
Councillor Paula Fletcher
Councillor Jaye Robinson
Councillor Jon Burnside
Councillor Shelley Carroll
Councillor Lily Cheng
Councillor Brad Bradford
Councillor Gary Crawford
Councillor Michael Thompson
Councillor Nick Mantas
Councillor Jamaal Myers
Councillor Paul Ainslie
Councillor Jennifer McKelvie
Call to Action: Ask Toronto City Council to have a heart and budget for a kinder city
On February 1, Mayor John Tory is expected to release his budget. Then on February 14 — Valentine’s Day — Toronto City Council will vote on it. Over the next couple of weeks we need to tell Mayor Tory and Councillors what loving our city really looks like (and it’s not spending almost $50 million on policing!).
We’re asking you to send a tweet asking the Mayor and/or your local Councillor to Have a heart and fix/change something in the 2023 City budget!
What would that look like? Maybe something like this:
Have a heart, @JohnTory. Policing poverty won’t make communities safer. Reallocate the police budget increase to community programs and mental health supports instead! #HaveAHeartTO
Try to personalize your tweet — say why you want this budget change. Like this:
Most of my income goes to rent, and I’m struggling to pay for food. I'm desperate to find a place I can afford. Have a heart, @JohnTory, and invest in building affordable housing. #HaveAHeartTO
- Use the hashtag #HaveAHeartTO
- Tag @JohnTory and/or your local Councillor!
Use this Valentine image if you like.
Have a heart and put money behind the TransformTO climate strategy. For my children. #HaveAHeartTO
Have a heart and help Toronto’s nonprofits help our most vulnerable residents by giving them funding that at least keeps up with inflation. #HaveAHeartTO
Have a heart. Unhoused people are dying, but there’s nothing in the budget about warming centres. #HaveAHeartTO
Have a heart and drop the TTC cuts. I already spend 2 hours just to get to work every day. I’d really like to spend more time with my family. #HaveAHeartTO