For the first time in over a decade, all three levels of government sat at the same table to discuss solutions to affordable housing.
The Toronto Housing Summit drew mayors from Canada’s largest cities, including Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton, along with housing advocates to look for answers to a problem politicians and the public describe as a crisis.
“I think we’re moving forward, we’re absolutely moving forward,” said an upbeat Bonnie Crombie, mayor of Mississauga.
“Three levels of government are listening, they each have solutions. We do have money earmarked federally and the provincial government has also heard us.”
The Summit was hosted by Toronto Mayor John Tory and moderated by Ana Bailao, the city’s Housing Advocate who described the occasion as feeling like “wedding day.”
“This is a historic day in the history of social and affordable housing.”
But solutions could not come soon enough for Alden Chaner, a retired senior who’s been on a waiting list for six years. He’s been told it could be 10 to 14 years before he finally moves into his affordable unit.
“It’s hard. If I didn’t have a wife I wouldn’t be able to survive,” he said, adding his wife helps put food on the table by working at a laundromat. He said he burned through his savings when he fell ill six years before his official retirement and has been living off his pension.
“Lots of people are suffering you know.”
Today the federal minister responsible for housing announced $200 million for the Affordable Rental Innovation Fund that will help create 4,000 new rental units over five years.
“Through that innovation fund, CMHC will offer financial support for important ideas for building a more inclusive society,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
Funding for affordable housing has been decreasing as shared operational agreements between various levels of government have expired.
Between 2013 and 2017 the city of Toronto will have lost $33.4 million.
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Mayor John Tory underscored that affordablility is a social and economic issue, and that it makes business sense to keep Toronto, and other big cities, affordable for young professionals looking to call Canada’s vibrant urban centres home.
“This is precisely what we’re meaning to avoid: a situation where you have to say to people you can’t live here in our big cities, which are the engine of economic growth,” he told reporters.
Over the last year and a half, Toronto’c city council has approved 522 units of affordable housing, but it could do more with stable, long-term funding from other levels of government according to the mayor.
“We’ll do whatever we can but we need partners.”
The situation in Toronto has been compared to Vancouver, which recently implemented a foreign home owner’s tax to curb the rise in skyrocketing property values.
“If we can’t stem the tide in Vancouver, it’s running across the country,” Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters at Friday’s summit.
Today’s gathering will also help draft Toronto’s submission for the National Housing Strategy that will serve as the foundation for housing affordability across the country.