Toronto Star: Mayor’s affordable housing plan ‘missing the mark,’ advocates say

Toronto ACORN housing

Posted July 5, 2018

[Read more about the affordable housing event - and ACORN's reports on housing in Toronto - here]
 
Despite Mayor John Tory’s re-election pledge to tackle Toronto’s housing affordability crisis, a new report shows just one in every 40 new rental units built since he became mayor is considered affordable.
 
And even so-called “affordable” units are out of reach for most low- and moderate-income households, according to the report being released Thursday by ACORN Canada, an advocacy group representing low-income residents in nine cities, including Toronto.
 
“We have a mayor with good intentions, but good intentions are not enough,” said Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, chair of ACORN’s East York chapter. “His affordable housing plan is missing the mark and too many vulnerable people are being left behind. We need him to deliver.”
 
Under Toronto’s Official Plan, any unit where the total cost of heat, hydro and rent is at or below the city’s average market rent is considered affordable.
 
By that measure, monthly rents of $1,202 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,400 for a two-bedroom unit are deemed affordable by the city, a cost many low- and moderate-income households would struggle to afford, the report notes.
 
“A definition based on market rent is ludicrous,” Ruis Vargas said. “The city needs to get real and redefine things so our members have somewhere they can afford to live.”
 
A spokesperson for Tory said the mayor has championed affordable housing over the last four years and is putting a “laser-like focus” on the issue so the city can build even more units.
 
Tory has set a new target of approving 40,000 affordable housing units over the next 12 years, more than double the goal of previous administrations that aimed to create 1,000 affordable homes per year, said Don Peat.
 
“Under the mayor’s leadership, city council has finally met its long-standing target of approving 1,000 affordable housing units a year,” he said. “Next month alone, city council will consider the approval of 893 affordable rental units, 422 mid-range purpose-built rental units and 300 affordable-ownership units.”
 
But ACORN questions who will be able to afford to live in those new homes.
 
Provincial and federal governments consider housing to be affordable if shelter costs do not exceed 30 per cent of gross household income.
 
About 47 per cent of Toronto rental households are paying more than 30 per cent of their gross income in rent, according to the city. And more than 92,000 households are on Toronto’s affordable housing wait list for a rent-geared-to-income unit.
 
Nalenie Persaud’s family in Scarborough is one of them. The single mother of two teenagers, who has a part-time job in the film industry and relies on welfare to fill in the gaps, has been waiting for affordable housing for 10 years.
 
While she waits, she struggles to pay $1,054 a month for her two-bedroom apartment and doesn’t know where she will live if her landlord succeeds in evicting her next month for late payment of rent.
 
“I used to have more steady work and it was easier to pay on time,” said Persaud, 33. “I’ve been looking and there’s nothing for rent for less than $1,400 (a month) and then you have to pay hydro on top of that. It’s impossible. And I’m not alone.”
 
The report urges the city to change its definition of affordable rent to recognize tenants’ ability to pay.
 
“Other levels of government recognize the need to base the definition of affordability on income,” it says. “For truly affordable rent, the city should take into account what is affordable for different contexts.”
 
The report also calls on Toronto to adopt inclusionary zoning to ensure all new developments include a percentage of “truly affordable” rents. ACORN also wants the city to maintain ownership and fully fund repairs to Toronto Community Housing, currently facing a $2.6 billion repair backlog.
 
The report, based on city statistics, shows almost 40,000 rental units were built between January 2014 and December 2017 in the city’s 12 downtown and East York wards. And yet, just 1,000, or 2.5 per cent of those units, were affordable, based on the city’s definition.
 
“Although Mayor Tory has boasted of his Open Door housing plan, it does not go far enough to increase the number of deeply affordable housing options in the city,” says the report.
 
As a result, “developers are being provided with incentives to build housing that does not meet the needs of our community members,” it says.
 
The Open Door Program, unveiled by Tory in early 2015 and approved in July 2016, offers developers fast-track planning approvals and financial breaks on development charges and property taxes for each affordable unit they build. The five-year initiative is designed to help the city achieve its target of approving 5,000 affordable rental and 2,000 affordable ownership homes for low- and moderate-income residents by 2020.
 
 
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Article by Laurie Monsebraaten for the Toronto Star