ONPHA’s response to the 2016 Ontario Budget
In its 2016 budget, the Province continues to focus on two of the priorities from last year’s plan: jobs and the economy. Significant investments in infrastructure, the green economy, and post-secondary education show a commitment to spurring economic growth and developing prosperity. While the budget includes a number of promising commitments, it does not do enough to alleviate the province’s affordable housing crisis or to ensure access to support services for vulnerable tenants.
New housing and homelessness commitments
The budget provides a preview of the update to the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS). The announcement included an additional funding commitment of $178 million, including $45 million over three years for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI). The funding will also help create up to 1,500 supportive housing units (in addition to the 1,000 spaces promised in the 2014 Poverty Reduction Strategy), and provide additional housing subsidies. Details on when the units will be completed or how the subsidies will be allocated, however, are not included.
A housing benefit pilot for households fleeing violence
ONPHA has long urged the Province to establish a separate, portable housing benefit for individuals and families fleeing domestic violence. The Province has finally taken notice: the budget included a $2.4 million commitment to pilot a new housing benefit for Ontarians fleeing domestic violence, which will help to ensure that families in crisis have timely access to new housing. The outcome of this pilot may also signal a future change to the way in which the housing needs of households eligible for Special Priority Policy designation are met.
A focus on housing and mental health challenges for Indigenous Ontarians
Another promising announcement is the commitment to developing a housing strategy to specifically address the needs of Indigenous people. ONPHA’s Aboriginal housing provider members play a key role in providing unique, culturally-appropriate housing and supports in communities across the province. We applaud the Province’s recognition of the need for housing solutions for Indigenous peoples, and hope this results in more support for the crucial work that these providers do. The Budget also includes $2 million for outreach and engagement with Indigenous organizations, which will inform recommendations to the Province’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
Helping social housing prepare for cap and trade
A central focus of the Budget is the introduction of a cap-and-trade system to help fight climate change. Revenue from the carbon market is expected to bring in $1.9 billion annually, which will be used to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this month, the Province announced an investment of $92 million for retrofits to social housing buildings to increase energy efficiency. These retrofits will help reduce providers’ operating costs and reduce their environmental footprint.
Another major announcement in the budget is the creation of the Ontario Student Grant program, which will provide free tuition to post-secondary students from families with annual incomes below $50,000 (and tuition assistance for families earning less than $83,000 annually). ONPHA members provide housing to many families with household incomes below this threshold and we welcome this commitment to expanding access to post-secondary education.
Basic Income pilot research project
A welcome surprise in the budget is the announcement of a pilot project to explore the possibility of implementing a Basic Income model. ONPHA has long supported the exploration of a Basic Income system to provide income support assistance. We look forward to learning more about the establishment of the pilot project and its implementation.
Funding for capital repairs
While the budget focuses heavily on the Province’s commitments to infrastructure investment, it overlooks the critical role of social and affordable housing. While the Province commits to investing $137 billion in infrastructure projects over the next decade, there were no commitments to help fund much-needed capital repairs in aging social housing buildings.
Sale of surplus land
The cost of land is one of the largest barriers to affordable housing development. ONPHA has encouraged the Province to prioritize the development of affordable and social housing when planning the disposal of surplus land. It was disappointing to learn that the Province has decided to sell large parcels of land in three high-growth, high-cost areas – Toronto, Pickering, and Mississauga – without setting a portion aside to leverage for affordable and social housing development.
The Province commits to “leaving no one behind” and included a 1.5 per cent increase to Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. The budget also included a further top-up for single OW recipients without children, bringing their total increase up to $25 per month. While any increase is welcomed, social assistance rates remain woefully inadequate to meet an individual’s basic needs. For example, the maximum shelter allowance for an adult receiving OW benefit is $376, much less than the average market rent for a bachelor apartment in most communities.
The budget also fails to provide dedicated funding to support vulnerable tenants who live in social housing. The number of vulnerable tenants in social housing is increasing, which strains providers’ resources and stresses tenants and communities. ONPHA is hopeful that the updated Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS) will recognize these challenges and provide provincial funding for support services and community development.
ONPHA looks forward to the release of the federal budget on March 22. The Trudeau Government has promised significant investments in social infrastructure, which should include new social and affordable housing and the repair of existing units. At the same time, we anticipate that the release of the updated LTAHS will provide greater detail on the continued transformation of Ontario’s housing and homelessness system.