Homes for Health

Homes for Health - Making Housing Sustainable

There is a massive housing crisis in Ontario that needs to be resolved, for us to have a healthy community, healthy economy, and personal health. The cost of both home ownership and rental accommodation are beyond the reach of many people, and the availability of housing is not keeping up with demand. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that the average cost of a home in Ontario in February 2019 was $580,019 (over $1 million for a new build single-detached house). At the same time the average rental price of a 3-bedroom apartment across Ontario is $1,500/month and much higher in the GTHA.

Lack of Affordability

In August 2019 the Association of Municipalities of Ontario reported that due to these high prices, coupled with stagnant wage growth, potential buyers must save for 12 years or more to accumulate a down payment. The Ontario government has identified that: it takes 2+ years to obtain site plan approvals for new buildings and major renovations; it can take a decade to build apartments in the GTA; and less than 7% of new housing built over the past 20 years was intended for rentals (down from 21% in the mid-1990s), which is the lowest level of rental production since 1950! It’s no wonder that over 83% of potential buyers cannot afford the average resale home and 56% of renters cannot afford the average 2-bedroom apartment!

Housing for Health

Most social housing in Ontario was built between 1945 and 1990 and much of it is in a state of disrepair due to deferred maintenance; some housing units are so bad they are not even occupied. There are a myriad of health issues experienced among people who find themselves homeless, or live in sub-standard housing. Examples include: TB, HIV infection, lack of treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure, and a greater rate of respiratory infections, arthritis and mental illness. These illnesses can directly affect the health of those around them, and also impact the health of the economy due to absences from work, or no work at all and increased use of the health care system. In contrast, studies have shown that when families are helped to buy an affordable home there are many benefits such as: improved finances, enhanced family life and greater happiness, improved nutrition, reduced frequency of common ailments such as colds, influenza, asthma and overall stress, fewer visits to the doctor, fewer sick days from work.

So what can be done?

  • The federal, provincial and municipal governments must work together in a non-partisan way to advance transformational change in the availability and affordability of housing for all Canadians (The $40 billion National Housing Strategy announced by the federal government in 2017 is an encouraging start to this process).
  • Regulations that act as barriers should be revised and streamlined, at both the provincial and municipal levels while not reducing building and environmental standards.
  • Governments must work together with private, non-profit, and cooperative housing sectors to preserve existing housing stock and expand options for affordable housing.
  • The provincial government must support municipal governments who are the primary funders of affordable and social housing in Ontario. This can be done be providing additional financial supports and ensuring regulations and policies are not burdensome.
  • Ontario is the only jurisdiction in Canada that funds affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs mostly through municipal property tax revenue ($1.77 billion from property taxpayers towards community housing in 2017). This is not sustainable or equitable and the provincial government must find a fair and enduring path forward.
  • All levels of government must work together to foster communities containing a wide range and mix of housing options and densities.
  • The provincial government should allow municipalities to pass inclusionary zoning requirements, whereby a fixed percentage of units in any new development must be for affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning is successfully practiced in cities such as New York and San Francisco, and also in Canadian cities such as Vancouver. Bill 108 passed by the Ford government, limits inclusionary zoning to locations near major transit stations and development permit system areas, and these are not readily available in many municipalities.
  • Layers of government should work together to identify and make available publicly owned lands for affordable housing development.
  • Municipal governments should consider change zoning regulations to facilitate innovative solutions to affordable housing, such as tiny houses, secondary suites in basements lofts and outbuildings, shared and co-ownership housing, modular and moveable housing.
  • The provincial government should consider offering financial incentives to developers, and facilitate the expediting of regulatory approvals.
  • All levels of government should develop innovative schemes for home ownership, such as rent to own, and initially reduced mortgage payments that increase over time in parallel with gains in family income.
  • The provincial government should provide low cost loans for repairs, and improvements that may e.g. create new legal second units that could be rented.
  • With almost 500,000 people represented on the community housing waitlist, and 20% of Ontario’s renters relying on community housing, this is a serious problem. When community housing was downloaded to municipalities in 2000 and 2001 there was no corresponding transfer of funds for both current and future capital needs. It is incumbent on the provincial government to improve funding arrangements in order to secure permanent and predictable funding for housing supports such as capital repairs and deferred maintenance.
  • All levels of government must work together to provide supportive housing for people with complex health problems, such as addictions, trauma, mental health difficulties, inherited disabilities.

This is only a snapshot of what needs to be done to tackle this complex problem. Designing a successful strategy will require extraordinary, cooperative efforts among all three levels of government and private, not-for-profit and cooperative housing groups. Partisanship must be put aside to accomplish the goal of housing for all. The health of individuals, communities, the economy and the environment depends on it!