Vote Housing: An Ontario Perspective
It is no secret that housing affordability continues to be a nationwide issue in Canada. Every day, approximately 1.7 million Canadians live in a home that is unaffordable, overcrowded and/or needs major repairs. In Ontario alone, nearly 750,000 households across the province are in core housing need, with over 185,000 on waiting lists for subsidized housing, according to the 2016 Census. In light of the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on low/limited income and other marginalized households, these needs have likely grown significantly.
With Canada’s federal election quickly approaching on September 20, 2021, housing affordability is shaping up to be a top issue that Canadians are looking to be addressed on the platforms of each of the political parties. A recent nationwide Nanos Research poll (see image below) found that nearly 8 in 10 Canadians would be more supportive or somewhat more supportive of a political party proposing action to end homelessness and invest in affordable housing. Homelessness and housing need are public policy choices, and it’s time that political parties include actionable policies to address these issues in their election platforms.
This is why ONPHA, along with dozens of other housing organizations across Canada, has endorsed the national, non-partisan Vote Housing campaign that works to ensure all political parties are making the needed bold investments into affordable housing and ending homelessness. The campaign is designed to engage and mobilize Canadians to pledge to Vote Housing in the upcoming federal election. This pledge not only shows us how many Canadians value action on housing issues, but also that political parties know that these issues matter to Canadians and that they must include them in their platforms and federal plans.
As part of their campaign, Vote Housing has created their own 2021 Federal Election Platform, which outlines 6 actionable policies that political parties should include in their platforms if they are committed to ending homelessness and housing need in Canada. However, what does this mean in an Ontario context? Why is it important for political parties to adopt these policies, especially in Ontario? Below, we take a deeper look into the 6 policy recommendations put forward by Vote Housing through an Ontario-centered lens to evaluate why it is especially important for federal parties to adopt these policies in their campaign platforms, and what it could mean for Ontario.
Vote Housing‘s 6 actionable policies in an Ontario context
1) Implement an urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing strategy containing both dedicated investments and an Indigenous-led governance structure
Investment in Indigenous-led housing solutions is critical to supporting progress along the path to reconciliation, including addressing many of the recommendations outlined in the Final Reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Moreover, investing in an urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing strategy will have broad-reaching impacts, helping to stimulate economic growth during this unprecedented downturn and ensuring communities across the country are supported sustainably for the long term.
Approximately 85% of Indigenous people in Ontario live off-reserve in urban and rural areas, with 18% of that population experiencing core housing need (compared to 12% for the non-Indigenous population). ONPHA’s Urban and Rural Indigenous Housing Plan for Ontario (URIHPO) identifies the need for at least 22,000 subsidized Indigenous-owned and operated units in urban and rural areas over the next 10 years to meet the growing housing needs of off-reserve Indigenous populations in Ontario alone. ONPHA is continuing work on developing an Indigenous community housing sector-led Implementation Plan for the URIHPO, and will continue to keep our membership informed about the Implementation Plan’s next steps.
2) Commit to the prevention and elimination of homelessness
Approximately 90,000 Ontarians experience homelessness in a year, with at least 9,600 Ontarians experiencing homelessness on any given night (these numbers likely increased as a result of COVID-19). Homelessness disproportionately impacts Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities, 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, low/limited-income people, people with disabilities, women, and seniors. ONPHA strongly supports the National Housing Strategy’s (NHS) bold goal to reduce chronic homelessness by 50% over the next 10 years; however, the NHS currently lacks specific provisions for supportive housing, which is critical to ending chronic homelessness. These provisions are also currently absent in federal party housing platforms to date. Therefore, an in-depth look into the policy recommendations in the Vote Housing campaign and how they can be made actionable is extremely important in the upcoming federal election.
3) Invest in the construction and operation of a minimum of 50,000 units of supportive housing over a decade
Currently, Ontario has less than half of the supportive housing units required for mental health and addictions alone, not including persons with other disabilities nor the growing needs related to COVID-19. Waitlists range up to seven years and a minimum of 30,000 new supportive housing units are required in Ontario alone to meet this need. Beyond supporting individuals, consumer choice and community integration would help end chronic homelessness and achieve major cost savings across health, justice, social services, and shelter systems.
4) Build and acquire a minimum of 300,000 units of deeply affordable non-market, co-op and non-profit housing over a decade
ONPHA and the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada’s (CHF) Affordable Housing Plan for Ontario show the need to build at least 69,000 new affordable rental housing units and repair 260,000 community housing units in Ontario alone by 2028. Every investment in community housing ensures public dollars are used more efficiently: every $10 invested in housing and related supports can save up to $20 in provincial systems like healthcare, criminal justice and social assistance. What’s more, building one affordable housing unit creates up to two-and-a-half new jobs, putting money into the hands of small-business owners and creating local, skilled trade jobs.
5) Commit to the progressive realization of the right to housing, including measures to curtail the impact of the financialization to rental housing markets, addressing the unique needs of equity-seeking communities in the National Housing Strategy, and ensuring people with lived expertise of housing need and homelessness are engaged in all levels of policy development and implementation
The disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized communities have compounded with pre-existing affordability challenges. ONPHA was pleased to see the launch of the National Housing Council in November 2020 to advance the right to adequate housing, along with the Council’s 2021-22 priorities released in June 2021, which include the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, improving the National Housing Strategy, and urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing. However, ONPHA continues to call for the immediate appointment of a Federal Housing Advocate to effectively implement the right to housing and remedy systemic barriers to housing.
6) Expand rental assistance for low-income households to reduce core housing need and prevent a wave of new homelessness resulting from the pandemic
Before the pandemic, 45% of tenant households in Ontario spent 30% or more of their total income on shelter (the highest rate across the country); plus, half of all Ontario renters had less than one month’s worth of savings before the pandemic. A variety of rent relief models have already been implemented across the country, demonstrating early success reaching households in need quickly, preventing significant arrears and requiring minimal administration. ONPHA continues to recommend consideration of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) proposed Ontario Rental Assistance Program, which would provide flexible support for tenants with a wide range of housing needs, to preserve tenancies for the long-term. ONPHA also continues to call for increased access to the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB). Over the longer term, we need to ensure that tenants have ongoing access to sustainable supports. In ONPHA and CHF’s Affordable Housing Plan for Ontario, we identify the need to provide income support for at least 311,000 additional households. These numbers have likely grown considerably since the onset of COVID-19.
Additional ONPHA Policy Recommendation
In addition to the 6 actionable policies suggested by the Vote Housing campaign, ONPHA continues to call for immediate stabilization funding for community housing providers to address the extraordinary costs and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations, which continues to threaten the sustainability of the sector over the long-term.
Want to learn more about the Vote Housing campaign and policies?
Stay tuned for ONPHA’s post-election analysis and what the next federal government could mean for housing in Ontario.