A guide to understand what’s changing under the Housing Services Act
The Housing Services Act, 2011 (HSA) provides the legislative framework and policy guidelines for community housing in Ontario.
In April 2019, Ontario released the Community Housing Renewal Strategy, which outlines the government’s plan to work with partners to stabilize and grow the sector.
According to the plan, there are three main issues facing Ontario’s community housing system:
- Supply. Housing stock is old and needs major repairs. Plus, many housing providers face uncertainty about what the rules will be when their mortgage or operating agreement ends, and they have financial or other challenges that affect their ability to continue to offer housing to those who need it the most.
- People. Many individuals face difficulties accessing community housing, and once in the system, they may face further challenges that need to be addressed.
- System. Ontario’s community housing system has complex and inefficient rules, which make it difficult for housing providers and service managers to best address tenant needs.
Initial changes under the Community Housing Renewal Strategy that have already come into effect include:
- Simplifying rent-geared-to-income (RGI) calculation rules.
- Improving waiting lists (refusal of offers and tenant transfers).
- Creating safer communities (discretion to refuse households previously evicted for a serious criminal offence).
Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020
The Province is currently working to amend the HSA under the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020 (also known as Bill 184). The goal is to help modernize the community housing sector, in addition to creating more accountability for tenants and landlords in the rental housing sector.
The key thing you need to know is that Bill 184 is enabling legislation, meaning that many of the details related to the proposed changes will come through regulations.
You can also dig even deeper with our submission to the provincial consultations on this matter.
Under Bill 184, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) proposed changes to O. Reg. 367/11 under the HSA, which are intended to:
- Ensure mutually beneficial relationships between service managers and housing providers through service agreements.
- Modernize accountability approaches in the service level requirements.
- Improve access to housing assistance for people most in need.
Following initial consultations from February – April 2021, recent consultations provided an opportunity to submit feedback on these proposed amendments.
So, what might be new in the HSA? Here’s what you need to know:
The proposed changes would allow housing providers reaching the end of their mortgage or operating agreement to either exit the current HSA funding and regulatory system, and/or enter into a new agreement with their service manager or District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB). These service agreements could include new baseline provisions and obligations related to administration, funding, and asset management that allow for a more flexible operating environment.
These amendments look to encourage housing providers to remain in the system and address a critical issue with the HSA funding formula that (without any action) could put 60,000 subsidized units at risk of loss or disrepair.
For many housing providers reaching the end of their mortgage, the current funding formula may cause them to fall into a “negative operating subsidy” position, which would significantly reduce service manager financial contributions. If nothing is done, most of these providers will encounter negative cash flow problems and will not be sustainable into the future: they will have the ability to either maintain subsidized rents or cover needed capital repairs, but will not be able to do both without assistance. To better understand this issue and who is impacted, read ONPHA’s briefing note on the HSA funding formula issue.
ONPHA’s recommendations on service agreements
For a sustainable community housing system, our recommendations to the province outline that service agreements must:
- Provide a minimum baseline of government support for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) assistance and property tax coverage for RGI units.
- Offer flexible, responsive options for housing providers.
- Facilitate housing providers’ ability to operate in a business-like fashion.
- Protect GST/HST tax rebates for housing providers.
- Align with principles of simplification, transparency, and consistency.
- Provide an equitable accountability framework and dispute resolution approach.
- Guarantee long-term tenant stability and support.
- Ensure housing dollars stay in the housing system.
Download our full submission to the provincial consultation for a more detailed look at these recommendations.
Bonus content: Curious to see how our Solutions Lab participants reimagined the service agreement negotiation process? Download our report to check out what we learned in the Lab!
Service Level Requirements
Current regulations under the HSA outline Service Level Requirements for the minimum number of Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI) units and income-tested portable housing benefits that a service manager must provide. However, these requirements were designed to only measure RGI assistance, so they don’t recognize or incentivize service managers to provide different types of housing assistance that could better match household needs.
The proposed amendments could allow for a broader range of types of housing assistance to count towards service levels.
ONPHA’s recommendations on service level requirements
To protect affordability and better connect households to appropriate services, our recommendations to the province highlight that service level requirements must:
- At a minimum, maintain the current number of RGI units in the system and create opportunities for expansion.
- Explore opportunities to offer additional types of housing assistance that could be counted toward service levels.
- Provide flexibility to support tenants in moving along the housing continuum.
Download our full submission to the provincial consultation for a more detailed look at these recommendations.
The HSA currently requires service managers to maintain a centralized waiting list for RGI assistance and outlines basic provincial RGI eligibility rules, but service managers can also set their own eligibility rules around certain matters. Through the provincial Special Priority Policy (SPP), survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking receive priority access to RGI assistance, and service managers are able to set other local priority categories.
The proposed amendments could expand the types of housing assistance that could be included in the access system, along with potential requirements and baseline rules for eligibility and priority access.
ONPHA’s recommendations on access
To ensure an equitable approach, our recommendations to the province outline that the access system must:
- Provide comprehensive, standardized access to all forms of available housing assistance in each Service Manager area.
- Allow simultaneous access to SPP applicants and other wait list applicants within service level standards.
- Promote expansion of local priorities for SPP access.
Importantly, we continue to stress that changes to the access system alone will not have a substantial impact on decreasing wait times or increasing access to affordable housing options without accompanying and increased investment in community housing renewal and growth.
Download our full submission to the provincial consultation for a more detailed look at these recommendations and find more in our submission to the previous consultation on income and asset limits for RGI assistance.
A note on proposed changes to income and asset limits for RGI
In February 2021, the MMAH also proposed amendments to the HSA under Bill 184 related to local eligibility rules for income and asset limits for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) assistance.
The objectives of the amendments were to:
– Create greater consistency across the province in the local administration of RGI housing eligibility rules; and
– Create greater consistency across the province in how housing need is identified and prioritized and to help ensure RGI assistance goes to those who need it the most; and
– Address a recommendation made by the Auditor General’s 2017 audit of social housing.
Download our submission for a more detailed look at these proposed changes and what ONPHA recommended to the Province.
Dedicated support for Indigenous-led housing solutions
Throughout all of our recommendations, ONPHA highlighted the need for forthcoming regulations to ensure dedicated support for an Indigenous-led approach to urban and rural Indigenous housing. In addition to our recommendations above, we advocated for Indigenous housing providers to have:
- A unique, dedicated funding approach (for both capital and operating expenses)
- Protection to ensure Indigenous housing remains Indigenous-led
- Ongoing control over tenant selection processes
ONPHA is currently finalizing an Implementation Plan for Indigenous-led solutions in Ontario to lay the roadmap for increasing Indigenous control over Indigenous housing and securing funding to build the required units, based directly on feedback from Indigenous housing providers.
How do we ensure the sustainability and resiliency of the sector?
Despite the severity and urgency of amending the HSA to meet the needs of a changing community housing sector, these forthcoming changes also give us the opportunity to innovate, question assumptions, and envision a new future for community housing in Ontario.
In late 2020, ONPHA launched our Solutions Lab to provide a time and space for key stakeholders across the province – including housing providers, service managers, and sector associations – to build a collective vision for the future for the community housing sector in Ontario, while addressing the critical end of mortgages issue.
The objective of the lab was to answer the following question:
“How might we ensure the sustainability and resilience of the community housing sector in Ontario through the development of creative business models and policy recommendations that are coordinated across Ontario’s housing system?”
Over the course of five phases, we asked participants to cast their imaginations 30 years into the future to envision what they would want the sector to look like in 2051. With that shared future in mind, participants then built a roadmap to determine what steps we could take to lead us there.
So, what do we hope to see?
Here’s what our Lab participants said: By 2051, we hope to have a sector that better serves people, meets resident’s support needs, sustains and builds capacity, has long-term resilience and stability, takes collective action, and fosters social integration.
In order to get there, we need to reimagine: the relationships between key players, the roles each of us play in the system, how we work, and the impact we have.
Download our Solutions Lab report for a more detailed look at our collective vision for the future of community housing.
At ONPHA, we continue to engage regularly with the Province and other sector stakeholders to develop and advocate for solutions to ensure that the community housing sector is sustainable in the long-term.
Thank you to those of you who participated in the consultation process. If you have questions about our consultation response, the Solutions Lab, end of mortgages and operating agreements or potential impacts, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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