ACORN Canada written submission to Ontario Ministry of Finance 2018 Pre-Budget Consultations

Posted February 5, 2018

                                                               
 
Introduction
ACORN members wish to encourage the Ministry of Finance to take this opportunity, during the 2018 pre-budget consultations, to consider the needs of low and moderate-income Ontarians. 
Poverty costs Ontario $32-to-38-billion per year. Society is becoming increasingly inequitable -- 14% of people in the province are classed as low-income. Rent costs are rising exponentially, communities are struggling to meet their basic needs, children are suffering. 
We believe that Ontario can lead the way in Canada by tackling housing affordability, rising child care fees, energy poverty, an inequitable financial system, and benefits that do not meet the needs of our most vulnerable, to foster a fairer, more inclusive province.
 
What is ACORN?
ACORN Canada, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was founded in 2004. We are a grassroots organization that has rapidly grown into one of the country's most effective voices for low and moderate income Canadians. With over 113,000 members in 22 neighbourhood chapters across the country, our central purpose is to effectively represent and champion the interests of Canada's low and moderate income citizens on the critical issues of social and economic justice. We work on a range of campaigns on a national and local level.
 
Child Care
Ontario is home to six of the top ten cities with the highest rates of child poverty. Ontarians need child care that is affordable, accessible and fair. Fees capped at a maximum of $10/day would ensure that parents can choose a child care solution that works best for their family. Increased spaces in underserved wards would tackle the postal code lottery that impacts the quality and availability of child care for many families. ACORN members also call for other improvements to child care, including:
 
Set limits on the amount child care centres (including for-profit centres) can charge parents;
Increased operational funding for public and non-profit child care centres;
Increase funding to centres to expand programming for parents who perform shift work/overnight hours/ etc.;
Simplified access to subsidy enrollment that does not require travel and/or internet access;
Use of libraries/ community centres/ apartment buildings as spaces for Child Care Centres;
Funding programs based on fair wages for Registered Early Childhood Educators;
Everyone who works in a Child Care Centre should be paid a living wage;
Increase funding to the child care sector at all levels of government.
 
Housing
Core housing need has risen to 15.3% in Ontario. The Province is in the midst of a housing crisis: Toronto is the most expensive rental market in the country and vacancy rates are at a 16-year low. People have nowhere to go and even if they did, they couldn’t afford to move as rents are unaffordable. Unfortunately, the National Housing Strategy does not go far enough. Ontario should keep the Investment in Affordable Housing program at the same level as before and invest extra resources to support the federal Co-Investment Fund, not just matching but exceeding federal funding to ensure as many low-income earners benefit as possible. Renters need the province to enact real rent control that will protect them, and implement policies that support the development of affordable housing. Recent inclusionary zoning regulations brought forward by the Province curb the cities’ ability to demand the levels of affordable housing that they badly need. Amendments to inclusionary zoning policy that will allow the creation of thousands of new affordable units are badly needed. ACORN members would like to see the Province make other commitments to improve access to affordable housing, including: 
 
Vacancy Decontrol for full rent control;
Require that successor landlords comply with Landlord Tenant Board orders placed on predecessor landlords.
 
Energy
While battling rising housing costs, one in five households in Ontario also experience energy poverty. OESP doesn’t reach around 20% of low-income households as they pay their hydro bills within their rent. With revenue from cap and trade expected to reach $1.9 billion annually, Ontario should invest 25% of this revenue into programs for low-income earners. The province can also tackle energy poverty by limiting fees charged by utility companies and increasing OESP levels annually in line with hydro increases. 
 
Benefits
Around 900,000 Ontarians rely on OW and ODSP. Yet, the benefits system fails to meet their needs. Ontario needs to raise the rates by $500/ month for people on OW and ODSP. Benefits should meet the need in our communities, and as such, the Housing Allowance should be set by City to reflect the market rate rent. Ontario must also address the clawbacks that drain these limited incomes:
 
Increase the employment income before clawbacks from $200/month to $800/month;
For couples and families on ODSP from $7500 to $10,000;
Limits for OW recipients should match limits of ODSP recipients;
Make all assets exempt for the first 6 months of receiving assistance.
 
Predatory Lending
Finally, the Province needs to tackle the predatory lenders that gouge our communities. 3-15% of Canadians are underbanked, meaning they have a bank account but it doesn’t meet their needs. It is cheaper to take a payday loan and pay $15 for every $100 borrowed than pay a $48 NSF fee. Without access to basic credit or low-interest overdraft protection, our low-income citizens are being pushed to fringe lenders who charge predatory rates. The Province must strengthen consumer protections, and work with the Federal Government to create a national anti-predatory lending strategy, as well as:
 
Extending payday loan repayment, using a model similar to Alberta’s repayment extension to 60 days;
Enforcing the ban on rollover loans by creating a user real-time database to monitor and avoid rollovers from company to company;
Creating protections for installment / rent-to-own / title loans;
Supporting the creation of alternative low-interest loan products.
 
ACORN members urge the Province to use this budget as an opportunity to do more for the families who need support. Give Ontarians a chance to thrive by adequately funding child care, making housing affordable, tackling the structures that entrench poverty in our communities, and making OW and ODSP work for those who need it. 
 
For more information, contact the ACORN office on (416) 461 5322 or at canadaacorn@acorncanada.org.