City Council has Options to Reduce Homelessness Now. It’s Time to Use Them.

A group of Toronto physicians are urging Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council to introduce a dedicated homelessness levy during the 2019 budget process.

Read the full text of their proposal below.

 


Homelessness has been the focus of much discussion in Toronto over the last month. Through news articles, editorials, vigils, and recent budget deputations, Toronto residents have shown City Council that they care passionately about the human costs of our current approach to homelessness and affordable housing. 

The Mayor and City Council have responded by launching the Housing Now plan to create residential developments on city land. While laudable, with only approximately 350 units that would be affordable to people living on low and very low incomes, it will do little to resolve this crisis, even in the long term. 

We’ve also heard our Mayor and some City Councillors respond to pleas from residents to increase resources to address homelessness by asking for assistance from other levels of government. They're right, of course. The provincial and federal governments must step up with real and sustainable resources, and we must all keep pushing to ensure that they do. 

But there is more we can do as a city, and we can do it now. We cannot wait for others to step in while people are dying on our streets and in our communities. We have revenue tools available to us now at the municipal level to ensure that significantly more people in Toronto have a safe, clean, and stable place to sleep. 

We've already seen a property tax levy dedicated to the Scarborough subway. A new, two per cent, dedicated homelessness levy could be directed specifically to shelters, housing supports, eviction prevention, and deeply affordable, safe housing. At an average cost to homeowners of about $5 a month, this levy could generate over $50 million in annual revenue. This has potential to make an enormous impact in our city if it is truly and transparently added to current resources. As Toronto residents, we can work together to ensure this fund has a direct and measurable impact on increasing the availability of shelter and housing.

We can also work to ensure that levies and property tax increases don’t impact people living on lower incomes, and we can do it using tools that are already at the City’s disposal. Programs are in place to ensure that older people and people with disabilities who are living on low incomes can receive rebates or defer payments of property taxes. If these programs are inadequate, they can be strengthened. Councillors can request a report from City Staff, detailing the reach and effectiveness of these programs, with recommendations on how to strengthen them, and develop a progressive property tax system that can serve Toronto’s needs in years to come. 

As physicians, we feel a particular sense of urgency to see homelessness and housing instability addressed in Toronto. As other health care providers have pointed out, a lack of access to stable and appropriate housing presents a fundamental barrier to both mental and physical health. We see it all the time — a patient’s wellbeing goes downhill when they lose access to housing, and it only gets worse from there. A safe place to live is the foundation of health, and as long as that remains out of reach for so many in our city, there is little we can do for our patients beyond treat the maladies that homelessness will inevitably produce.

We can choose now to change the status quo in 2019. Tomorrow, the Mayor and City Council will be voting on this year’s budget, including revenue sources. They can make the decision now to generate dedicated funding so that every resident of our City has a safe, warm, affordable, and stable place to sleep.  

We urge every Toronto resident to contact the Mayor and your City Councillor today to tell them to support new revenue tools in the 2019 budget for shelter, housing supports, eviction prevention, and deeply affordable housing. It's time to act with the powers that are already available to us to address this crisis of homelessness. We have options. Let's use them.  

 

Dr. Stephen Hwang, Physician of Internal Medicine, and Professor, University of Toronto

Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto

Dr. Gary Bloch, Family Physician, and Associate Professor, University of Toronto

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