Dear Premier Ford, Mayors and Regional Chairs,
As organizations working closely with people experiencing poverty, housing precarity and homelessness, we would like to express our appreciation and support for efforts to strengthen intergovernmental collaboration to address housing affordability in Ontario, including through the provincial-municipal housing summit.
Addressing housing affordability is critical to an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The affordable housing crisis converges with broader social and structural inequities that contribute to deeply rooted opportunity gaps in the province. Ensuring that all Ontarians have access to safe, secure and adequate housing requires a systems-level approach. It requires bold and visionary action by public, private and not-for-profit sector leaders to address the structural barriers to housing security and core housing-related needs specific to both rural and urban communities. Coordinated efforts and supportive policies centred on equity will support our collective economic wellbeing.
As a province, we have learned from the experience of the pandemic that we can come together to meet the deepest need. We call on you to take urgent action on the following recommendations, which are both practical and implementable, and have the potential to improve the lives of structurally disadvantaged Ontarians, build a fairer and more equitable recovery and foster economic prosperity across the province.
Address Indigenous housing and homelessness
We recognize the distinct housing needs of Indigenous Peoples across Ontario and support the implementation of a By-Indigenous-For-Indigenous Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous housing strategy in partnership with Indigenous leaders, First Nations, communities, housing providers, and all levels of government.
In the interim, action and investment is needed to address the existing housing inequities experienced by Indigenous Peoples, and we call for the Ontario government and municipalities to dedicate and increase specific funding allocations within existing funding programs for Indigenous service providers to address Indigenous housing and homelessness.
Further, in the spirit of meaningfully advancing reconciliation, municipalities must seek to remove barriers to
establishing Indigenous-led housing solutions, including waiving education development charges for Indigenous-led affordable housing initiatives.
Redefine “affordable housing” to mean homes that are truly affordable to Ontarians
All levels of governments should be attentive to the need for truly affordable homes. Addressing Ontario’s housing crisis requires also creating rental housing that is affordable to people living below median-income levels and ensuring that definitions of affordability are income-based, reflective of local jurisdictions, and within reach of low-income households. Current definitions of affordable housing, such as rental units at 80-100% of average market rent, are inadequate to address the needs of a growing number of low-income families that are already struggling to pay rent that is between 30%-50% of their household income.
Coordinate use of provincial and municipal assets and funding to create more deeply affordable rental housing and supportive housing in rural and urban communities
Stronger collaboration is needed between the provincial and municipal governments to identify opportunities for the development of new deeply affordable (e.g. Rent-Geared-to-Income) rental housing that low-income households can afford, such as through joint identification and development of provincially and municipally owned land into affordable rental housing sites.
Similarly, increased collaboration between the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Finance and municipalities is needed to leverage resources and policy to address the undersupply and long waitlists for existing supportive housing units for people experiencing homelessness and persons living with disabilities and mental health and substance use challenges in rural and urban settings. The provincial government and municipalities must collaborate on supportive housing, including funding for new units and supports, including case management, primary care, and mental health and substance use treatment.
Increase levels of investment to develop affordable housing for low-income households
While a construction boom continues in Ontario, there remains a stark shortage of truly affordable homes, deeply affordable housing units for low-income households, and supportive and transitional housing programs for those that need them. Existing social assistance rates are inadequate for some of the most marginalized Ontarians to secure appropriate housing. Increased provincial investment to address the critical undersupply of these segments of the housing continuum is urgently required. Municipalities must also create new programs to promote the development of affordable rental housing through the provision of incentives, including the waiving of development fees, fast-tracking of development approvals and land donations. The design of such programs must support the development of as many units as possible – higher than existing 10-20% set aside rates.
It is important that deeply affordable housing projects have clear gender targets to ensure women-led households that face a disproportionate level of poverty have access to a safe and affordable housing supply. A portion of all new investment must also be targeted to provide housing options for women and families experiencing gender-based, intimate partner, and family violence, including in rural communities.
Support and partner with the non-profit housing sector in providing subsidized housing
The non-profit housing sector is an essential partner in providing subsidized homes that hundreds of thousands of Ontarians rely on for shelter and quality of life. The sector requires net new, predictable funding from all levels of government in order to prevent the loss of units to disrepair and conversion of units to the private market, including sustained funding for rent supplements and operational subsidies where existing funding agreements are at-risk.
Develop actions to address the distinct affordable housing-related issues in rural settings
Provincial and municipal governments must work with rural communities and housing providers to address the distinct affordable housing needs experienced in rural settings, including in relation to the recent migration from urban to rural areas and the preservation of rental stock at affordable rates.
Protect existing affordable housing supply
With existing affordable rental units disappearing faster than they are being built, new initiatives to protect atrisk deeply affordable and “naturally occurring” affordable housing stock, including policy and financial support for non-profit acquisition programs and new funding programs to support the retrofit and repair of existing aging rental housing stock, are required to protect what critical supply of existing affordable rental housing remains.
Make renting more affordable
The Residential Tenancies Act must be amended to remove vacancy decontrol for existing rental units to protect the existing at-risk affordable rents on which hundreds of thousands of low- and moderate-income households rely. With rising upward pressure on both rent and home prices in urban and rural jurisdictions, a return to unit based rent control for existing rental buildings will remove a key incentive behind the loss and conversion of existing affordable rental units.
Give renters more security in Ontario
Tenants face compounding and intersectional barriers to obtaining and maintaining suitable housing within the rental market including poverty and identity-based discrimination. To support tenants in navigating the Landlord Tenant Board, community legal clinics across Ontario must be adequately resourced and the option for tenants to appear in-person at Landlord Tenant Board hearings must be expanded across Ontario.
Promote diverse representation on the provincial Housing Affordability Task Force
Housing is a continuum from homelessness to home ownership. To focus attention on housing affordability for homeowners is to exclude millions of households in the province who are affected by the high costs of rents and lack of appropriate housing options for their needs. We recognize the important work of Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services and Habitat for Humanity Greater Toronto Area and we call on the provincial government to extend invitations for membership on its recently created Housing Affordability Task Force to include more representatives from the non-profit housing sector, including organizations that develop and operate housing for low-income households.
Research conducted by public policy organizations and resourcing requests from municipalities have highlighted how critical it is to have the increased levels of investment needed to support low-income and precariously housed individuals and families. The time to act on recommendations that include the distinct needs of Ontario low-income households is now.
Housing affordability is a complex issue that requires collaboration between all levels of government, the not-for-profit and corporate sectors, as well as meaningful consultation with persons with lived experience. We wish to underscore the importance of having all housing sector partners, including community housing, involved in discussions to drive system-level solutions that address the province’s housing affordability crisis. The provincial municipal housing summit is an important opportunity to identify ways to strengthen those cross-sector partnerships to support this critical work going forward.
Honourable Christine Elliot, Deputy Premier, Minister of Health
Honourable Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance
Honourable Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services
Honourable Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
Honourable Victor Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade
Ms. Andrea Horwath, Leader, Official Opposition, Critic, Intergovernmental Affairs
Mr. Steven Del Duca, Leader, Ontario Liberal Party
Mr. Mike Schreiner, Leader, Green Party of Ontario