Toronto councillors and advocates demand improvements to housing plan

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WATCH ABOVE: Ahead of Toronto’s Planning and Housing Committee, councillors and housing advocates called on the committee to strengthen the city’s proposed 10-year housing plan – something many say they feel doesn’t go far enough. Matthew Bingley reports – Dec 10, 2019

Ahead of Toronto’s Planning and Housing Committee, city councillors and housing advocates called on the committee to strengthen the city’s proposed 10-year housing plan, which they feel doesn’t go far enough.

The plan unveiled last week by Mayor John Tory showcases the city’s effort to address a commitment to creating 40,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. Of the $23.4 billion plan, the city has committed to paying $8.5 billion into it, leaving the rest up to uncommitted funds from the provincial and federal governments.

READ MORE: Toronto announces 10-year, multi-billion-dollar plan to address housing issues, homelessness

On Tuesday morning, Councillor Gord Perks said the 10-year housing plan starts the city down the road to solving the city’s housing issues. But Perks thinks improvements need to be made in order to end homelessness and properly address affordable housing.

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“We need to do better still, this is a one-time opportunity to get it right” said Perks. He said that housing should be declared an emergency in the city to convene a meeting between community leaders and all three levels of government.

Perks is also calling for affordable housing commitments in the plan to be permanent. The city currently offers developers financial and land incentives to include affordable units in new buildings. But those commitments are usually for a set period of time.

“Housing must be permanent, no more deals where we get affordable housing for ten years or 25 years,” Perks said.

City council has been called on to declare housing an emergency before, but it voted against the motion earlier this year. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam who is also calling for increased measures in the housing plan, said other councillors should be willing to support the idea this time.

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“We could have had a year of accelerated action where three levels of government come together to actually address homelessness 12 months ago,” Wong-Tam said, calling council’s previous decision “a mistake.”

Wong-Tam said if council was willing to declare a climate emergency, it should be willing to put its support to the city’s homeless.

“Certainly for the thousands of Torontonians who are living on the streets, in the ravines, staying on shelters and sleeping synagogues and basements of churches, we can certainly declare an emergency for them” said Wong-Tam.

Mark Aston with the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness said there are 8,000-9,000 people who are homeless every night in the city. Shelters he said are at capacity and the scope of the issue is at the crisis point in the city.

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Aston said the resources the city is directing to the housing plan was encouraging due to the 18,000 supportive housing units included with it. But he doesn’t think the plan responds to the issue with the correct speed.

“We need to have a sense of urgency here, we have respite centres, temporary structures with 100 people on cots,” Aston said. “This is not what should be going on in Toronto 2019.”

READ MORE: Toronto rental program blasted by councillors for ‘failing’ tenants

Aston said the homeless crisis in the city did not appear over a matter of years, adding that it has been decades in the making. Aston said the problem is the result of failed public policy and can only be improved through adequate supportive and affordable housing.

Brian Davis with Houselink Community Homes said Toronto should be looking to other cities for inspiration. He said Vancouver created modular supportive housing which was ready for people to live in within a five month period. Toronto he said should be looking at every avenue to speed up its own process to achieve similar results.

“I don’t think that there is ever enough urgency,” Davis said, who has been working in the non-profit housing sector for years. He said he’s witnessed a waiting list for supportive housing balloon from 900 in 2009, to over 17,000.

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“When I see individuals on a street corner, I think about the opportunity and how their lives would be so different if they were living in supportive housing,” Davis said.

The Planning and Housing Committee is currently going over the 10-year housing plan at its Tuesday meeting. City Council will be asked to approve it, with any additions made, when it meets on Dec. 17.

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