Point • Counter-point: Public housing

Point: Low-income housing better supported by private sector

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), an agency that manages all the public housing in the city of Toronto, recently released a report detailing nearly $650 million worth of housing repairs in back-order.

With a city struggling to balance a $750 million deficit this year, the interim-chair of the TCHC proposed the sale of up to 900 publicly owned houses to help pay for the cost of these repairs. The sale of this housing is in the best interest of the city, especially given their estimated property value of $400 million. In fact, promoting a policy involving the gradual sale of public housing makes a lot of sense in a city like Toronto. Public housing is simply not needed.

Affordable housing is a requirement for any city. In Toronto, however, government ownership is not necessary to build and maintain it. Local charities like the Fife House Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Tobias House have already demonstrated that they have the ingenuity to deal with both temporary and long term local housing concerns without relying on the government.

The government would be better off
decreasing zoning restrictions and
decentralizing planning, particularly
with respect to currently zoned
residential and commercial land. This
would go a long way to make it easier
for charities to be able to afford
increasing their supply of affordable

At the same time it would also help businesses locate where they feel they can be most successful, which would help increase the availability of jobs.

The other major issue determined by the audit of the TCHC was that it had failed to keep its housing complexes full. The worst case of this was an apartment complex at 389 Church Street which continued operating despite being two-thirds empty. Most initially interested tenants had deemed its units — each of which had only a small bedroom and shared bathrooms and kitchen — too small for their needs and had gone on to arrange alternative living arrangements.

This is the problem inherent with public housing particularly in a large, well-developed city like Toronto. As neighbourhoods change, public housing projects rarely adapt to meet changing consumer demands. The revitalization of Regent Park is attempting to change this by providing a mixture of market rate and affordable housing units. Yet, at a cost of more than one billion dollars, it’s still unclear how successful the incomplete 15-year revitalization plan will be.

Although the problems faced in Toronto with respect to affordable housing may seem irrelevant to cities like Kitchener and Waterloo, the conditions that make housing unaffordable still exist in these cities. The shift in employment away from the manufacturing sector in favour of lower paying jobs in the service sector has had a negative impact in cities across Ontario. There is hope for alternatives beyond public housing, though.

One such example is the significant support that exists within the Kitchener-Waterloo community to see older buildings preserved. Older buildings are frequently used by small businesses, the biggest employer in any city. Kitchener also requires all affordable housing projects to delegate at least 20 percent of their units to market rate housing, a small start in making affordable housing more affordable for all involved.

Ultimately Toronto, Kitchener and Waterloo would do well to consider lessening the role of government in the building and operating of affordable housing. Charities are much better at adapting to the changing needs of residents which make them much more suited to provide housing in modern cities.

– Keith Marshall

Counter-point: Public housing a necessity for low-income Torontonians

Given the global financial situation we have dealt with in the past few years, it would be an understatement to say that most people been affected by the economic downturn. It has had an impact on all levels of government, all of which have instituted different measures in an attempt to balance their budgets.

Like all politicians, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been given the task of balancing the city’s budget in light of tighter financial circumstances.
In a desperate attempt to prove he is “fiscally responsible” and in typical conservative fashion, Mayor Ford has decided pass the burden onto the people who can least afford it.

Ford’s proposal to sell the homes owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) is not only bad for the city, but will also have a detrimental effect for those on fixed incomes, as well as low income families.

The cost of owning a home has been on the rise for the entire country. Excluding Vancouver and Toronto, the national average for home prices is up 3.7 per cent from May 2010. In Toronto, housing prices have increased a massive 9 per cent.

Home ownership has always been difficult for the aforementioned groups. The difficulties which they had previously faced have now been compounded by consistently rising housing prices.

Those in support of Ford are likely to argue that those who work hard make money and can therefore provide their own shelter. While there may be some merit to that, it fails to account for those Torontonians who aren’t using public housing as a crutch but as life support.

Ford’s proposal to sell the properties of the TCHC is simply another conservative policy that will negatively affect those who cannot afford it.

As mayor, Ford had the ability to make up the deficit in a number of ways. The easiest, most effective way to do this would be to increase property taxes, particularly in the relatively wealthy areas of the city.

This solution would be more effective over the long term, rather than the proposed short-lived solution that will have severe detrimental impacts on lower-income Torontonians.

There are numerous people who have shown support for proposal. However, I would attribute this to a misunderstanding of what exactly is meant by subsidized housing.

Subsidized housing is available in many forms such as public housing, non-profit housing, co-op housing and rent supplements. It’s not just “free housing.”

While Ford’s proposal may have the necessary political flashiness, it is not truly fiscally responsible. Ford fails to consider the economic spillover effects that will occur when people who can’t afford public housing are forced to rely on others for basic necessities.

The situation is also applicable to the subsidized housing situation in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The co-operative housing in Waterloo has added a community building aspect to the city.

Not only does it allow residents to become members of the community, but it also allows previously displaced citizens to become reintegrated in society with ease.

Subsidized housing is an integral part
of community building. Mayor Ford’s
proposal is not good for the city of
Toronto or for its citizens.

Ford’s proposal is simply an attempt to garner votes from those who will fall for his breed of populism. Instead of burdening those who cannot afford it, Mayor Ford should consider what is best for the city, not what will get him more votes.

– Alex Reinhart