City approves affordable housing plan

New units, fixing old ones, rent subsidies to help those in need
Plan calls for additional $484 million annually for housing
By Kris Scheuer
(Originally written May 27/09 for Town Crier. This plan passed at council Aug. 7)

Heather Cunningham has lived in mental health facilities, shelters, detox centres and under bridges.
The formerly homeless 25-year-old is currently on the city’s affordable housing waiting list, along with 66,000 others.
Meanwhile, she’s paying full market value for an apartment in a 12-storey building in the east end. She’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and lives on $1,099 a month from the Ontario Disability Support Program. Her rent gobbles up $850 of that and would eat her out of house and home if not for the help of her mother, who foots half the bill.
“My mom wanted to take a year off work but can’t because she’s helping me out,” said Cunningham, who’s been on the subsidized-housing waiting list for three years. “I’d have to go to the food bank if my mom didn’t help me. I’d be in poverty.”
Cunningham’s not looking for social housing but rather a rent subsidy to lower the cost of staying in her current apartment.
She’s one of almost 250,000 people the city plans to help with its 10-year Affordable Housing Action Plan, which still needs a nod from city council. (It was approved Aug. 7)
“We are proposing to help (the) one-fifth of Toronto residents … in need of housing help,” said Sean Gadon, director of the city’s Affordable Housing Office. “Over the 10-year plan, we hope to help 50 percent of those households.”

Even if all 67 actions in the plan are funded and implemented, the city will still fall short of meeting the current need in a decade.
That concerns Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation for the Wellesley Institute. 
“There are two choices you have regarding targets (one) based on money available from other levels of government or the second approach is to set targets based on community need and then look for housing funding,” Shapcott told the Affordable Housing Committee. 
He has researched housing needs in the city and pointed to at least 43 other Toronto housing studies dating back to 1918.
Parkdale-High Park councillor Gord Perks is hopeful the city’s report won’t be just collecting dust on a shelf.
At least $40 million is ready to flow now from the federal and provincial governments for 362 new affordable housing apartments including some units in Ward 14. 
“It’s good to know that good quality housing is being built in Parkdale,” Perks said. 
He added his ward includes people from the bottom 20 percent to the top 20 percent of income earners and everyone in between.
“I’ve found people have come to understand the great value in having mixed income housing in one area.” 
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, is also convinced the report will lead to action. 
“I think there’s political will,” he said. “And with the current economy, there are stimulus packages.” 
If Greater Toronto Apartment Association president Brad Butt has his way, it will be easier to scatter affordable housing throughout the city. 
He’s pushing for a rent supplement approach that would include housing allowances that travel with tenants.  
“This is to give tenants a choice of the type of housing they live in and what part of the city they live in,” he said. “There are existing apartments all over this city.
“There are lots of apartments in Rosedale with, say, 100 units,” he adds. “What’s wrong with five or six residents having a rent subsidy?”
Indeed, the city’s plan includes a housing charter that states all residents should be able to live in their neighbourhood of choice without discrimination.
The housing report calls for a 30 percent increase in funding from all levels of government from the current $1.4 billion by adding $484 million annually. 

The decade-long plan’s five key targets are:
• $59.3 million for housing supports for seniors, the homeless and for mentally ill people;
• $99 million to repair 120,000 social housing units and revitalize the surrounding communities;
• $148 million for 10,000 new affordable housing units, plus rent supplements for 2,000 of those apartments;
• $15.5 million to help people stay in their homes and to help low-income earners afford home ownership; and
• $161.7 million in rent supplements for existing apartments.

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