Why fixing housing is the best medicine: Ana Bailao (Metronews)

(In the coming March 22 federal budget, there is a golden opportunity for the federal government to show leadership on housing and help improve the lives of Canadians, writes Toronto councillor Ana Bailao. CONTRIBUTED)

Housing is the multi-dose cure we need for a brighter future because it strengthens our society and our economy in so many different ways.

It makes people healthier and more productive. It allows them to better contribute to, and participate in, their communities. It reduces costs to our health, education and legal systems. Canada needs a strong dose of such medicine and it needs it soon.

That's why, for the last two years, I have stood side-by-side with Mayor John Tory and city council to strongly advocate for Toronto's housing needs. In the coming March 22 federal budget, we believe there is a golden opportunity for the federal government to show leadership on housing and help improve the lives of Canadians.

Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau this budget can set housing on a new and promising course for the next 150 years.

This Liberal government swept to power on a promise to help grow a strong middle class. The hardworking men and women in Canada's middle class cannot grow stronger if their bank accounts are drained by high housing costs.

In Toronto, far too many families are sacrificing the basics and their future savings in order to simply pay ever-climbing rents or mortgage payments on ever-increasing house prices.

When it comes to affordable housing in Toronto, it is clearly a problem created by past federal (and provincial) governments. It can only be fixed by them as well. The City of Toronto is doing all it can with its limited resources.

Budget 2017 is an opportunity to make significant, predictable and long-term investments in affordable and social housing across the country. To get housing right, the federal government must begin treating it as important infrastructure – just as crucial to communities as roads and transit.

Toronto Community Housing has a $2.6-billion repair backlog.

That's $2.6 billion we need to spend just to fix the social housing we have.

This housing was left on the City's doorstep by other levels of government with no money in the bank to maintain a state of good repair and no extra funding to keep it from crumbling.

Faced with a moral imperative to act, the City has laid out a plan to fix our housing stock so that people can live in dignity. But that plan only works if all three levels of government step forward to pay what they owe as partners in social housing.

The City of Toronto/TCH will dedicate $1 billion towards repairs by the end of this year.

Here's what Ottawa must do to inject new life into the creation and maintenance of decent, affordable housing:

  • Commit $864 million for its one-third share of capital repairs at Toronto Community Housing
  • Offer funding and tax incentives to help spur new affordable housing development
  • Provide $1.4 billion over 10 years to maintain existing levels of federal funding for social housing and reinvest future savings from expiring social housing agreements back into social housing
  • Enable the refinancing of non-renewable social housing mortgage loans held by CMHC without penalty
  • Make permanent and double the funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy
  • Support the City's New Affordable Rental Housing and Affordable Ownership Housing targets
  • Provide surplus federal land for affordable housing developments

By including these simple changes in the budget our federal government would send a message that Toronto isn't alone in this work and that residents haven't been left behind to take care of themselves.

Fixing housing may not be easy, but it is essential. It's the medicine we need to build a stronger, fairer Canada for the 21st century.

Ana Bailao is the City Councillor for Ward 18, Davenport and Toronto's Housing Advocate

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