Housing and Homelessness in Toronto

From PEF member Nick Falvo, from today’s Toronto Star:
City has a useful plan but still needs funding

January 15, 2008

Over the past decade, media attention surrounding homelessness has been widespread, prompting Canadians to become increasingly concerned about a mounting social crisis.

Shelter usage has been growing and reputable surveys have been showing increases in the homeless population.

In the 1990s, after major cutbacks to social programs (including the cancellation of federal funding for new government-assisted housing units), pressure mounted on governments to respond.

By 1998, the mayors of Canada’s big cities declared that homelessness had reached the point where it could be considered a “national disaster.”

Opinion polls show that most Canadians are aware that homelessness has been increasing. Most also believe that the number of homeless people can be reduced.

A patchwork of government initiatives to provide both direct assistance to the homeless and new affordable housing has been announced since the late 1990s.

To date, however, government efforts have been too little, too late. Indeed, we have not come even close to matching the 25,000 affordable housing units built annually in Canada before the massive cuts of the 1990s.

Compounding the homelessness problem is the fact that increases to social assistance have been only nominal.

In real terms, social assistance benefit levels in Ontario – after having been ravaged during the Mike Harris years – are still lower than when the McGuinty government was first sworn into office in 2003.

Regrettably, housing on the private market is unaffordable for most low-income Canadians.

In Toronto, average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,060; it is only profitable for the private sector to build new units that rent for at least $1,500 per month. The poorest sixth of Toronto’s renters – representing roughly 125,000 households – can afford a maximum monthly rent of only $290.

Not surprisingly, waiting lists for social (that is, government-subsidized) housing have grown in recent years; there are currently about 66,000 households on Toronto’s waiting list alone.

Against this backdrop, Toronto’s recently released 10-year affordable housing plan, entitled “Housing Opportunities Toronto,” comes as something of a breakthrough. It is a road map of what ought to be spent on homelessness and affordable housing in Toronto over the 2008-2018 period.

It does not try to take the easy way out by focusing exclusively on the chronically homeless – who represent less than 1 per cent of those in real need of housing. To be sure, it features the following sober commentary:

“To succeed, Toronto must assist some 200,000 households who either do not have a home, cannot afford where they live, live in substandard conditions, cannot afford to buy or may lose their home. In general, these are households with incomes of up to $36,000 (single) to $61,000 (family of five) …”

Nor is the Toronto plan revenue-neutral: It comes with an annual price tag of just under half a billion dollars.

City staff plan to undertake public consultations on the plan over the coming months.

This will be followed by the development of a more comprehensive “Affordable Housing Plan,” for review by city council.

Kudos to Toronto for not trying to sweep this social crisis under the carpet.

Of course, one major obstacle remains: This blueprint has yet to be funded.

Understandably, the plan will call on Queen’s Park and Ottawa to provide the lion’s share of the new funding required.

All of this comes at time when the United Way reports of deepening poverty among Toronto families and with a provincial premier telling us he wants to do something about it.

Now the real test begins.

Nick Falvo is the author of Gimme Shelter! Homelessness and Canada’s Social Housing Crisis. He works at Street Health, in Toronto.


  • Like one million plus other Canadians I have had to choose between food and shelter. That is my situation today. I am homeless now. I have been looking for a place for several weeks. I also have mental health issues that have been the major cause for my recent instability.

    There will be an article coming out Saturday Feb. 2, 2008 for which the Red Deer Advocate, our City’s Local Newspaper, interviewed me. The article deals with the issues of this site’s blogs concerning homelessness, poverty and mental illness, addictions, spirituality and other socially relevant matters.

    The interview took place at “A Gathering Place,” a clubhouse for those dealing with mental health issues, of which I am a member. It is there that I often use the computers to write my blogs and work with the space I have here.

    If you wish to read it on-line following is the link, look under NEWS and then under that tab click LOCAL NEWS:
    The article should appear between 10 and 11 am PT (Pacific Time), Saturday Feb. 2, 2008.

    In Closing:
    It makes a world of difference when there are people willing to take the time out to listen to the stories of people’s lives. The lives of people who are in crisis need that extra touch of concern, it is in this heart of sincerity that the human soul, touched by something divine, is able to retain its humanity
    Thomas Francois

  • I’ve been toying with the idea of suggesting an “inflation royalty”. That is, a tax on sectors whose regional influence drives up a jurisdiction’s inability to provide (undercosted) public goods. Specifically, I was thinking of the oil industry’s record profits in AB (used to fund anti-scientific and neoconservative lobby groups and thinktanks) and the inability of Calgary to build fire halls, offer cutting edge public transit or deal with urban sprawl. But the royalty might be applicable in Kitchener-Waterloo, coastal China, just about anywhere where construction or contracting costs rise so high or become so scarce, that a municipality cannot complete basic construction projects.
    The idea doesn’t work too well, because many inflationary costs are non-local, ie) local copper prices rise as China and India urbanize.
    But here, you have the financial hub of Canada, gaining 4 jobs for every manufacturing job lost, thx to a plunging US dollar. The banks that strangly don’t have to add currency reserves in good times (I don’t think they have to have any of these counter-cyclical reserves anymore), that can’t afford free no-frills savings accounts yet can afford to lose millions following the ABCP lemmings, and can afford US compensation for CEOs. I think where financial institutions drive up real estate price in Metropolitan Toronto, they can afford to fund some public housing, at least where they enjoy a national banking monopoly and are as rich as oil companies.

    For the record, the worst part of living in a homeless shelter in Toronto for me was the bedbugs. You actually had to be homeless to apply for welfare there (a recipe for lifetime shelter residency). Didn’t give library cards and the associated free internet access to shelter residents either. But Toronto always votes red or orange…

  • Francisco Sanchez

    Homeless issues still not resolved
    My whole life was so much around this issue of: homeless life, that when someone talks about it, I fill like they are talking about me, my view in this subject is different from what I read in the news, I think that the system will work better, if we did not have to have, special houses for the homeless people and the existing shelter to be replaced by an organization with more services, better services, and in quantities of about 200 people per day, in this size of operation the accommodation prices per person , per day are around 435.00, lower than the medium 450.00 of the social services and lower than the private sector medium of 510.00 per month.
    The building should have about 33,000 sq. ft , 5 levels plus basement, many rooms are for singles with a window., bed, desk, chair, coat rack. A number of rooms are for old people with a window, bed, desk, chair, sofa , TV., internet, cable, coat rack. Other rooms are for teenagers , this rooms have 2 beds for the same sex, window, desk, chair, coat rack, teenagers will be encouraged to take courses of some sort. Another kind of rooms are for people with kids, this rooms are a little bigger, have bank bed, 2 seat sofa , desk, chair, TV. Window, coat rack, internet, cable. There is a few rooms for wheelchair, single bed, window, desk, chair, TV. ,cable, internet, coat rack. There is another kind of accommodation rooms, less sophisticated, for people on a short stay, this rooms have 6 beds, partial separated by a metal partition every 2 beds and one window for every 2 beds.
    There is 12 washrooms for women with shower, 12 washrooms for men with shower, 12 bathrooms for men and women, 12 laundries, 24 janitor’s rooms, many storage rooms, fitness room, community TV. Room, 5 smoking areas, 50 seats restaurant, 6 level elevator, one level wheelchair elevator, garbage shooter at back of the building, at front 2 desks one for security and one for monitoring services, administration office, and office for de restaurant.
    Personal: 6 people for security, 8 for house keeper, 4 janitors, 4 for office administration, one manager, 9 for restaurant, one chef, Total 32 people
    This type of accommodation, allows the system to recognize the homeless condition, to be treated more humanly, on a more unify social oriented
    Homeless people were complain about the shelter accommodation; noise, scare, not well organise, impractical. Unable to sleep, to many people in the same room, homeless people prefer sleep on the street than sleep in the shelter.
    This plan was designed to overcome all of that and much more, for every 200 homeless people needs one institution like this one, the estimate cost is about 7 million, plus site land.
    Canada has an opportunity to lead the word in social setting system.

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