Seeking solutions for Toronto social housing

The Village by Main Station PHOTO: Options for Homes

As the term “housing crisis” continues to lodge itself into Toronto’s lexicon, residents are wondering what can be done to improve housing options in our communities.

“Improvements to our social housing stock are sorely needed,” said Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith in a recent press release announcing $3 million in federal money earmarked for affordable and social housing programs in the area.

Improvements are needed in a number of areas.

According to the Taking Action on Housing report, Toronto’s submission on a national housing strategy, released in October 2016, the city’s housing crisis can, in part, be attributed to tight vacancy rates that are sitting around 1.6 per cent, sky-high house prices, and a lack of new rental housing, in addition to persistent homelessness.

This while the collection of cranes towering over the city signal that Toronto continues to see unprecedented growth – but that the vast majority of homes being created will be unaffordable for a significant portion of Torontonians.

A Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) report published at the end of 2016 showed that average rent for a one-bedroom in the city has risen to more than $1,700 per month and with close to 100,000 households on a waiting list for subsidized housing – a wait which can take up to 10 years – many remain in dire need of help.

But Options for Homes, one of the three organizations set to receive federal funding, is working to ease this issue.

The non-profit development group caters to low and moderate-income households by offering condominium units at cost – meaning the condo is priced to be equal only to the cost of its development, and profits are deferred until the unit is resold by the owner.

“Options for Homes is part of the many solutions needed to tackle the city’s housing crisis,” explained CEO Heather Tremain via email. “Our down payment assistance program helps to support working families who otherwise would not be able to afford a home in Toronto, which in turn keeps the city diverse and preserves the middle class.”

The company is currently working on building The Village by Main Station, an affordable condominium that is anticipated to be ready for occupancy by fall 2018. The condo will be located on Trent Avenue, in the Danforth Avenue and Main Street area.

“The Village By Main Station will be another exceptionally well-built condo by our builders, Deltera – just without expensive amenities like pools and gyms,” said Tremain. “This keeps our prices and our maintenance fees low so that people can continue to live comfortably in their new homes for years to come. We have been meeting with our purchasers regularly to keep them updated on their new condo over the life of the project to date, and they are already creating a vibrant community of neighbours.”

Prices for the units start around $225,000 and Tremain said Options typically offers to lend buyers “15 per cent of the value of their home as a down payment boost. With additional help from the city, we’ve been able to help some people at this development with as much as $70K in down payment support.”

The project has seen a fair amount of praise from government leaders in past weeks as it works to help many residents who wouldn’t normally be able to afford to own their own home.

The concept also follows Toronto’s “Housing First” approach – a philosophy the city has focused on since 2006 which states that people are more successful in improving their lives and moving forward if they have safe and sustainable housing first.

“We offer a ‘hand up’ in a difficult real estate market – but it’s not a handout,” Tremain clarified. “Our loan eventually needs to be repaid, but that day is when our purchaser feels capable.”

This article has been updated.

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