Residents speak up on budget

A packed auditorium awaited councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and several guest speakers at the councillor’s first town hall meeting of the year, focused on addressing both the declining amount of affordable and subsidized housing in Ward 32, and proposed cuts in the upcoming city budget process. Well over 100 area residents packed into St. John The Baptist (Norway) Church on Jan. 5, to listen to the speakers and take their own turn at the microphone commenting and questioning.

Guest speakers included Joy Connelly, an area housing blogger, and Neighbourhood Link’s Donna Braybrook, as well as City of Toronto Director of Financial Planning Josie Lavita, who offered the perspective of city staff in the budget process.

Connelly started off the evening, discussing affordable housing issues in general, pointing out how expensive Toronto has become.

“I couldn’t afford to live on my street if I were in the market today. My children couldn’t afford to live on the street they grew up on,” she said. “For new people coming in, social housing is the only affordable housing.”

She also spoke about Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s proposed sale of hundreds of small properties. She contended that the one-time sale of hundreds of properties would actually do little to stem the tide of repairs overwhelming TCHC, but that other non-profits may well be able to operate some of those smaller housing units without losing money.

“Just because TCHC can’t manage them well doesn’t mean that no one can,” she said. “My proposal is no sale without a plan.”

Braybrook offered related perspective, as Neighbourhood Link manages a 10-resident building owned by TCHC. Neighbourhood Link also provides over 300 units of their own affordable housing in the East End, but she emphasized that the organization’s partnership with TCHC was a great example that can and should be emulated.

One person from the crowd asked McMahon if she could guarantee that funds raised from the sale of the properties would actually go towards the repair backlog. She replied that provisions would be included by council to ensure that was the case.

Several people stood up to say that any net loss of subsidized housing stock was unnacceptable.

The next speaker was Lavita, who offered an explanation of the budget process from the point of view of city staff, and in particular, staff that has worked for the city since pre-amalgamation days.

She pointed out that many services the city currently pays for used to be paid for by the province. The biggest cost struggle facing the city, according to Lavita, is the TTC, combined with the limitations of generating income.

“We only have so many revenue tools that we can use as a city,” she said.

Richard Joy, Vice-President of Policy and Government Relations for the Toronto Board of Trade, emphasized that with a budget shortfall, if something isn’t eliminated, then extra revenue needs to be generated.

“If we’re not cutting something, we need to be doing something on the other side to counteract that,” he said.

He said that increasing the proposed property tax increase to three per cent, as well as increasing the TTC fare hike to 15 cents from 10, would generate the income needed to cover the projected shortfall in the TTC’s operating budget.

“It can’t just be about not cutting,” he said.

McMahon pointed out that the current picture of the budget is not final, and said many items would be taken “off the chopping block” at the Executive Committee meeting this week. She said the budget council will vote on next week may be quite different from the one currently drawing residents out to public meetings in such large numbers.

She encouraged residents to attend City Hall during the budget debate. City Council will debate the budget over three days, on Jan. 17, 18 and 19.

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