Putting new revenues on the City's agenda
SPT’s city budget leadership for over a decade contributed to a watershed moment in the 2020 city budget.
In early January, we published Toronto After A Decade of Austerity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which assessed the damage done to our city by a decade of austerity budgets and made the case for new revenue tools available under the City of Toronto Act. This research was heavily referenced in the media, partner advocacy efforts, resident deputations, and our own budget town hall and deputation training sessions.
Then, in the lead-up to the final debate on the budget, we coordinated an open letter — signed by 80 diverse organizations and agencies serving communities across the city — calling on Mayor John Tory and Councillors to end austerity and use every revenue tool at the City’s disposal to address the damage done by it.
Our work contributed to Council’s decision to finally raise property taxes to fund programs and services. And we are hopeful that another new revenue tool advocated for in our report, a vacant homes tax, will be in place for 2022.
- Report: Toronto After A Decade of Austerity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
- Toronto Star editorial: "In the end, we must pay for the Toronto we want"
- Open letter: Austerity has made a mess of our city. It’s time to invest in building a Toronto we can be proud of
Strengthening the resilience of Toronto's nonprofit sector
Space — access to it, and its affordability, development, maintenance and retention — is an issue that affects nonprofits across sectors and across the city. From February to April, we continued our support of the Toronto Nonprofit Network by surveying nonprofit organizations to find out whether they were interested in collaborating on this issue (and if so, how), and to identify other pressing issues they felt TNN should prioritize.
TNN (now under the stewardship of Family Service Toronto) will be moving forward to support nonprofit constellations engaged in social purpose real estate and community space issues and opportunities in the near future.
Ensuring that community voices are heard in our city's pandemic recovery
Early in the crisis, we sprang into action by lending a helping hand to several partner organizations and as a key member of the City–United Way network that shared information, aggregated common needs, and problem solved.
As the Mayor, Councillors, and the newly formed Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild (TORR) began their work on our city's recovery, we joined organizations representing tens of thousands of Torontonians to outline 10 principles for a bold, green, and just recovery. We later led a submission to the TORR by more than 50 nonprofits and advocacy groups from across the city identifying short- and long-term solutions, and the inter-governmental advocacy needed, for an equitable recovery.
The TORR sought input from Torontonians, and partnered with us to ensure that under-served communities, especially those hardest hit by the pandemic, were included. Throughout the summer, we worked with community organizations and resident leaders to survey and interview more than 1,400 residents and documented significant increases in the need for income supports, affordable housing, and mental health services, particularly among marginalized communities. Residents' data and recommendations were submitted to the TORR and published in October in our Community Voices Pave the Road to Recovery report.
The TORR's final report to City Manager Chris Murray included 83 recommendations, ranging from detailed, service-related recommendations to others focused broadly on issues and relationships. The City Manager’s report focused on how the City would address those recommendations. But it was light on a clear vision and guiding principles, not to mention tangible commitments, goals, timelines, and budgets for implementation.
We don't want a rebuild of what we were. Only through a collective vision and collective action can we build back better than before.
- Statement: We support collecting race-based and socio-economic data to fight COVID-19
- Letter: Toronto organizations call for a bold, green, and just recovery from COVID-19
- Joint submission: 50+ non-profits call for an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through submission to TORR
- Report: Community Voices Pave the Road to Recovery
- Blog post: Recovery report has some good recommendations. But we need an action plan.
Researching poverty, inequality, and exclusion
The pandemic brought to light serious issues surrounding the vulnerability of our seniors. But our August release of Senior Poverty and Inequity: The Toronto Experience, published with Well Living House, revealed that many Toronto seniors were struggling long before the pandemic — one in six live in poverty, with immigrant seniors twice as likely to be affected as non-immigrant seniors. The report included 16 policy directions to ensure that every senior is able to age comfortably and with dignity.
Our recent Spaces and Places of Exclusion research with York University highlighted the disparities experienced by immigrant and racialized communities in Toronto's rental housing crisis. This first-of-its kind research received exclusive media coverage by The Toronto Star, and in the legislature, York South—Weston MPP Faisal Hassan welcomed our policy and research directions, affirming that "the staggering statistics and evidence of disparities that exist along racial, social, and spatial lines is all too familiar" and stressing that "housing policies must be responsive to different communities and different regions to ensure that housing is addressed across racial, social, and geographic divides."
- Report: Senior Poverty and Inequity: The Toronto Experience
- Report: Spaces and Places of Exclusion: Mapping Rental Housing Disparities for Toronto’s Racialized and Immigrant Communities
- Toronto Star article: "Three times more racialized renters live in overcrowded housing in Toronto than non-racialized renters — and the starkest gap is among those born in Canada, study says"
Building capacity at the community level
SPT has helped hundreds of residents strengthen their communities by hosting trainings and development workshops for recipients of Neighbourhood Grants. This City of Toronto program allows resident-led groups to make changes they want to see in their communities by planning events and taking action with their neighbours.
Obviously, the pandemic meant that grant recipients had to cancel events planned for 2021. But since September, we've been working with grantees to support them in turning their in-real-life ideas into online events, and offering specialized training (e.g., Zoom, planning online events, and making online spaces engaging) to ensure their success.
Tackling inequality in our schools
As steward of the Coalition for Alternatives to Streaming in Education (CASE) for many years, SPT and partners exposed Grade 9 "streaming" — the practice of streaming students from racialized communities into non-academic courses, severely limiting their future academic and career choices.
In July of this year, Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, finally announced that the Province will begin the process of ending this “racist, discriminatory” practice, starting with math in September 2021, to “better support all students in having every opportunity to pursue the pathway of their choice after their K-12 education.”
Although we passed stewardship of CASE onto the Ryerson Leadership Lab earlier this year, we will continue, as a partner in the Coalition, to advocate for the necessary support, training, and community engagement needed to make this transition successful across the province.
Speaking out against injustices and political failings
Besides a pandemic, 2020 brought blatant systemic racism, the Province's repeal of ranked ballots, shortfalls for communities and nonprofits in the Province’s 2020 budget and for low-income communities in the City's draft inclusionary zoning framework, forced encampment clearings, and deepening housing precarity and — more than two decades after it was declared a a national disaster — homelessness.
What a year, indeed.
- Statement: SPT statement on systemic racism
- Blog post: Another attack on local democracy: Province moves to repeal ranked ballots
- Blog post: Ontario 2020 budget shortchanges communities and nonprofits
- Blog post: Inclusionary zoning: Low-income communities left off the map
- Statement: Forced encampment clearings are not the answer
- Blog post: #NationalHousingDay: A bittersweet celebration
As we move into the new year we will be met with a new set of challenges and opportunities to rebuild our city better.
The first challenge? The City's projected $1.8 billion budget shortfall for 2021.
With the staff-recommended (draft) budget set to launch on January 14, our City Budget Watch blog is back for a twelfth year. Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst Beth Wilson will again offer in-depth analysis of the budget and share information on how you can learn more and get involved. Our "City Budget Matters 101" series will bring you the facts on several critical issues our city is facing and what Council could do in the budget to make a difference. We and many partner organizations are also hard at work preparing to work with communities to increase understanding of the budget and advocate for one that creates a more livable city for all of us.
And the biggest opportunity?
During the pandemic, we've seen the City respond quickly, and innovatively, showing that real transformation is possible. We're excited about seizing this moment in history and, together with an impressive new Board of Directors, championing equality for all Torontonians as we prepare to navigate a post-COVID world.