Yesterday morning I sat in on a meeting at City Hall, with Mayor John Tory and his Executive Committee. The topic was affordable housing, specifically the “Housing Now” initiative that the city staff has developed. The room was packed with people who are concerned that this initiative will not provide enough housing for those who are most desperately in need of it.
The report defines “affordable” as 80% of market rent, which is not affordable at all for most people and particularly those on the margins. Some of the units would be 40% of market rent, but only one tenth of them. There was also no mention of supportive housing, or units specifically for people exiting homelessness.
I was 24th of 27 people making deputations (3 minute speeches, stating our concerns). I’ve included my deputation below, but basically I was advocating for the many people in Parkdale who are being forced out of their relatively affordable dwellings and have literally nowhere to go in a city with ever-soaring rental costs.
Since I was near the bottom of the list, I sat for two and a half hours, hearing person after person describe their concern for the most marginalized people in our city. It was simultaneously encouraging and saddening; encouraging to be reminded that there are so many people in Toronto who care so deeply, and saddening that the response by all levels of government has been so inadequate over the last couple of decades that homelessness is now a true crisis.
When I left City Hall, I went to Parkdale and joined Erinn and Meagan for an hour of helping a friend de-clutter her home before a housing inspection. She acknowledged freely that if she is evicted, she has nowhere to go.
After that, Meg and I were walking through the neighbourhood and ran into both halves of a couple, one after the other. They were both in a pretty bad way, having lost their housing (we think), and feeling pretty desperate and helpless. We encouraged them to go to one of the temporary shelters that are relatively nearby, but don’t know if they will go.
A couple of blocks later, we ran into a friend who was busy working on a project. We stopped to check it out, and he told us that he was building a house for “Sam” a mutual friend who has slept outside for quite a while now. This house consisted of a cage on wheels, covered in a tarp and lined with sleeping pads. Our friends are so creative, resourceful and kind… And this should not be the last resort. It just shouldn’t, in a city like Toronto. But this is the reality that faces our friends.
I pray and plead that the eyes, hearts, minds and wallets of all levels of government will open, and that this housing crisis will be addressed as the emergency that it is.
As promised, my deputation:
Good morning, Mayor Tory and Councillors Ainslie, Bailao, Crawford, Minnan-Wong, Pasternak, Nunziata and Thompson,
My name is Joanna Moon, and I am speaking today on behalf of The Dale Ministries, a community organization and church in Parkdale that places at its core those who are often pushed to the margins. The Dale operates without its own walls; we run all of our drop-ins, outreach, services and special events in partnership with other community organizations.
As Parkdale gentrifies, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of people of low income being evicted, and their units being rented out for double the price. Many of the members of the Dale are facing the stress of being pushed out of places that they have called home for many years, compounded with the bleak reality that there is nowhere affordable to go. Our colleagues at Parkdale Community Legal Services have done, and are doing, great work in fighting back against these evictions, but now the legal clinic itself being evicted.
Many of our people in Parkdale have been on the waitlist for subsidized social housing for a decade or more. Now, not only is subsidized housing a far-off dream, but the stock of rooming houses and relatively affordable apartments is decreasing at an alarming rate. When our friends are forced out of their homes, the only other option is the shelter system that, as you know, is overwhelmed.
The only emergency shelter in Parkdale is a women’s respite center on Cowan Avenue, which is over-crowded, inaccessible to those with mobility issues, with cots on the floor and no showers. The next closest option is one of the windowless Sprung structures, in Liberty Village, which feels far more like a warehouse for humans than a home. We’ve been told by multiple people that the other respite center in the Queen Elizabeth building in the Exhibition Grounds is a pretty dismal place to be, and that food rations are totally insufficient. While these temporary shelters have been necessary this winter and last, they are not a long term solution. They are far from dignified, and give our friends the impression that they are a problem to be dealt with, rather than the inherently precious people that they are.
We are glad that affordable housing has become a priority for this committee, and we are deeply concerned that the plans outlined in the Housing Now initiative will not benefit those in most desperate need of affordable housing. We urge you to require that the housing developed on the 11 designated properties be truly affordable, with at least 50% being rent-geared-to-income units. These 11 sites must include supportive housing, and housing for people coming out of homelessness. Also, least 10% of the units must be dedicated to indigenous housing providers.
Additional surplus city-owned sites in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (such as South Parkdale must be added to the list of 11 properties. And finally, meaningful Inclusionary Zoning MUST be put into place, to ensure that development does not lead to the displacement of people who already live in neighbourhoods like Parkdale.
Toronto needs to be a place where everyone has a place to truly call home, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Thank you for your time.