Mayors form alliance to push for housing cash

Friday’s housing summit will put pressure on senior governments to commit serious, stable money to build and fix affordable housing.

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Amid a continuing crisis in affordable housing — crumbling public buildings and long waitlists — Mayor John Tory says it’s long past time for the federal and provincial governments to “step up” and invest in housing.

The mayor of Canada’s largest city will announce Monday that he’s convening a summit on housing this Friday, bringing municipal leaders — including the mayors of Vancouver and Edmonton — to the same table.

The group has outlined key demands to the higher orders of government, details of which have been shared with the Star. They include earmarking pending infrastructure investments specifically to housing.

“There has been nobody there to be our partner, really, in any effective way . . . They’ll cite numbers and things they’ve done, but I think it represents a declining participation,” Tory said in a sit-down interview with the Star last week.

“I’m disappointed that the new government in Ottawa, now being one year in, and the provincial government, being several years in . . . that they haven’t stepped forward with more.”

At the summit, the big-city mayors will be requesting that most of the available $20 billion in federal money for “social” infrastructure be dedicated to public and affordable housing.

Toronto has received just $115 million for social housing so far in the first phase of the federal social infrastructure spending — part of $640 million Ottawa has allocated to Ontario, of some $2.3 billion to be doled out nationwide.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has not yet committed to a substantial investment, beyond the $42.9 million announced in April for energy retrofits for social-housing towers.

But Toronto is facing a $2.6-billion backlog in social housing repairs for the portfolio held by its largest housing provider, Toronto Community Housing. That backlog has led to the closure of hundreds of units in the past five years and put thousands more at risk of being shuttered.

By the end of the year, TCH will have spent $622 million on housing repairs, of the city’s own $864-million investment. But neither of the other levels of government has come forward to match that money with the customary one-third share. Without it, repairs will stall and more units will have to be closed, TCH and city officials have warned.

A spokesperson for federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in an emailed statement that “affordable housing will be a key component of the second phase of infrastructure investment,” which is expected to be announced before the end of the year.

A spokesperson for Ontario Housing Minister Chris Ballard said the province is working with the city to “increase the supply of affordable housing, make the social housing system easier to navigate and help achieve our goal to end chronic homelessness.” The spokesperson also also cited other one-time programs, including a $3.9-million investment in portable housing benefits for survivors of domestic violence. 

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