Housing Action Now
c/o 489 College Street, Suite 205, Toronto, Ontario M6R 2A3
Contact: Beth Wilson, 416-351-0095 x257, [email protected]
Deputation to the Community Development and Recreation Committee on the Core Service
Review - Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. My name is Beth Wilson. I am the
senior researcher from Social Planning Toronto, a nonprofit community organization that works
to advance social and economic justice issues through research, community development and
promotion of civic engagement. I am also the co-chair of Housing Action Now, a city-wide
network of residents and community groups working to advance the right to safe, decent and
affordable housing in Toronto. I am here today to speak on behalf of Housing Action Now.
HAN conducts public education and policy work to inform and engage community members
and policy-makers around vital housing issues affecting our neighbourhoods and communities.
Our network includes 40 individuals and organizations, including agencies such as Kensington
Bellwoods Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto, Children’s Aid Society of
Toronto, Tenants for Social Housing, Canadian Pensioners Concerned, and Federation of Metro
I would like to convey our network’s deep concerns about the direction of the core service
review, and in particular with regard to the city’s shelter system. First I must comment on the
general direction of the core service review. Our members are struck by report after report
from KPMG that offers “opportunities” to dismantle our city – recommendations that are
completely counter to the results of the public consultations that overwhelmingly called for the
preservation of city services and indicated a willingness to pay for those services. The gravy
that was promised has not materialized – instead the options are about making deep cuts to
cherished city services. Cutting subsidized child care spaces, selling off long-term care homes,
reversing environmental progress, shutting down shelter beds and trading in good jobs for bad
ones – this is not what Toronto residents signed on for. We want to say that the Mayor and
City Council have no mandate to dismantle our city, and that is what is at the heart of these
Throughout the core service review, the $774 million figure has been repeated many times as the gap in the city budget - a daunting figure to be sure. But now we understand that that figure is considerably less when other revenue sources are factored in. If City Council had passed a modest tax increase in the 2011 budget and had not cut the $60 vehicle registration fee, the city would have some work to do to balance the 2012 budget, but there would be no rationale for deep and broad-based cuts. This is a crisis that has been manufactured.
The consultant reports do not appear to address the need to advocate for funding from senior levels of government. In February, the Mayor wrote a letter to the provincial government asking for $150 million to cover some of the province’s fair share of the city’s costs. Why isn’t that on the table any longer? The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has identified that up to 10% of municipal policing costs fall under federal jurisdiction and should be paid for by the federal government. For the City of Toronto, this amounts to over $84 million. Why is this avenue of revenue raising not being pursued? In the public consultation survey, the vast majority of participants supported property tax increases to preserve services. On average, people were willing to pay a 5.15% increase in property taxes. Why is the entire discussion on the service cutting side of the equation? It would seem the only revenue generating discussion is about making low income people pay more for city services.
In the consultant reports, deep cuts are offered up haphazardly in all kinds of program areas without any background documentation or in-depth analysis. As one councillor has put it, it is policy-making in the dark, and it is unacceptable. The core service review pits one service against another, and one community against another. We reject this. We see city and community services as deeply interconnected, affecting the quality of life of all Toronto residents across the city. We cannot pretend that cuts in one area will have no impact on other areas. Housing is a case in point.
Today, the committee is considering recommendations about reducing the number of shelters or shelter beds in the city. But reports on the Affordable Housing Office, Toronto Community Housing Corporation and the city’s community grants programs are not available. All of these areas are closely linked.
To its credit, KPMG has recognized that to lessen the need for shelter beds, we must make investments in permanent affordable housing, in supports, as well as, in supportive housing. Naturally, we strongly support the expansion of affordable housing, including supportive housing and the full range of supports people require. However to lessen the need for emergency shelters, substantial and ongoing investments are needed– something that no level of government has taken action on to date. KPMG provides no good reason to believe that these investments will be made and the need for emergency shelter beds will lessen as a result.
We are deeply concerned that only the message of cost cutting will filter through in Council’s final decisions, exacerbating the crisis of homelessness even further.
At present, the Ontario and federal governments are negotiating a 5-year extended housing agreement that would continue to provide municipalities with funding for affordable housing. The first hurdle is for senior levels of government to sign the deal that will facilitate the flow of funding to municipalities. Our great concern is that Toronto City Council may take a pass on these housing funds when they become available, as it recently did with regard to 100% provincial funding for two public health nurses to work with low income and newcomer communities. While these public health funds would have come at no cost to the city, Council rejected the funds, denying these supports to marginalized communities. We worry that a similar lack of logic will prevail on decisions regarding housing funding.
Further no level of government has articulated a plan for addressing the end of social housing operating agreements. Without continued funding, tens of thousands of residents who have rent-geared-to-income affordable housing now, will be out on the street in the years to come. If this situation comes to pass, we will have a great need to expand our current emergency shelter system.
KPMG suggests that homeless people could be given a higher priority on the waiting list for accessing social housing as a way of lessening the need for shelter beds. The consultants also state that the waiting list for social housing is already very long and this approach would extend the time for others to get housing, possibly encouraging them to become homeless to get quicker access to housing. This, of course, would have the perverse effect of increasing the need for emergency shelters.
KPMG’s recommendation would mean that other priority groups such as women fleeing domestic violence would be given a lower priority on the waiting list. This is clearly an unacceptable option. As of June 30, 68,253 households were on the waiting list for social housing in Toronto. Rearranging the order of acceptance will do nothing to address the fundamental housing problem or lessen rates of homelessness.
We urge the committee to reject any cost cutting measures that would reduce emergency shelters or shelter beds for homeless people. Certainly long-term substantial investments in permanent housing, supports and supportive housing could reduce and even eliminate the need for emergency shelters in the long run. However there is no plan on the horizon, and certainly not within the timeframe the consultants propose (2012-2014), by any level of government to make these investments. As it stands, these recommendations, if adopted, would greatly harm one of the most marginalized groups in the city.
Thank you for the opportunity to depute.