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Toronto’s already grim affordable housing crisis is set to get a whole lot worse as the city’s draft municipal budget for 2013 proposes yet another massive cut to affordable housing investments — adding up to a staggering $ 328-million loss in just two years.
Municipal budgets are about choices — choices about the kind of city we want to live in. The draft 2013 budget sets out a cold and harsh vision for Toronto, a city where the poorest and most vulnerable who are desperate to find and maintain a decent home are ignored and neglected.
As Toronto residents and municipal politicians review the draft budget over the next month or so, they also have choices. They can embrace the austere vision that relegates hundreds of thousands of women, men and children to desperate conditions, a growing burden of poor health and early death; or they can move toward a healthier and more equitable Toronto that provides sensible housing supports for those who need them.
The City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration is set to take a massive $ 128-million cut in housing and homelessness investments in the draft 2013 budget — down from $ 793 million in 2012 to $ 665 million in the coming year.
Hacking one-third of Toronto’s spending on housing and homelessness programs over two years will have a devastating impact on affordable housing in the city, on the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, and ultimately on the population health of the entire city.
Toronto’s affordable housing wait list stood at a record 87,301 households in October. That’s 161,222 women, men and children desperate for a decent place to call home. The city’s wait list has set a record every month — month after month — since the recession of 2008. And many desperate Torontonians don’t even bother to sign onto the list because the wait is a decade or more in the most optimistic case.
Another sign of the deep impact of Toronto’s affordable housing crisis: More than 946,000 visits to food banks, according to the latest data from Daily Bread Food Bank. People are hungry and rely on food charity due to low incomes and the high cost of housing.
Toronto’s affordable housing crisis is bad for the health of the hundreds of thousands who are at the centre of the storm; the crisis is bad for the population health of the entire city; it’s bad for the social and economic health of Toronto. A lack of affordable housing is a drag on our economy.
In the planned 2013 municipal budget, a big chunk of the housing cuts — $ 72 million — come from cuts by federal and provincial governments to housing subsidies that are passed along to the city and, in turn, distributed to affordable housing providers ranging from Toronto Community Housing to co-op and non-profit groups.
Not included in this figure are about $ 21 million in provincial housing and homelessness funding to Toronto that will be cut on Jan. 1, 2013. Most of that spending is in another part of Toronto’s municipal budget (Toronto Employment and Social Services). The city is proposing to fund those cuts temporarily over the next year as a short-term stopgap while it negotiates with the province.
The City of Toronto is planning to pile on its own cuts on top of federal and provincial cuts — the draft 2013 budget calls for $ 56 million in city housing cuts.
Most of the huge cuts are planned for social and affordable housing spending. Last year’s municipal budget called for $ 569 million in investments in social housing — which helps subsidize existing housing for hundreds of thousands of the poorest Torontonians. This year, planned spending will be sharply cut to $ 472 million. That means less money to help low-income households pay their housing costs, and less money to properly maintain the buildings.
The cost of these massive housing cuts: longer lineups at food banks, a rise in economic evictions as poor households cannot pay the rent, and unhealthy conditions in affordable housing as necessary building repairs are unfunded.
The city’s affordable housing budget — which funds desperately needed new homes — will be cut in half from $ 49 million last year to $ 24 million this year. The cost of these cuts: Longer wait lists for affordable housing, and longer waits for those already on the wait lists.
Toronto’s spending on homeless shelters and supports and services to help people who are homeless move to affordable housing have been flatlined in the 2013 budget at $ 165 million. Freezing homelessness spending even as inflation erodes spending power, and the pressure on homeless services grows because of the housing cuts, will leave the city’s homeless services struggling to cope with a growing tide with extremely tight resources.