Provincial Election 2022: Understanding complexity of affordable housing issue is key first step in finding solutions

George Shields cuts the ribbon at the official opening ceremony of the affordable housing for seniors building on Gerrard Street East in Leslieville last month. Solutions being offered to the affordable housing crisis during the current Ontario election campaign need to take into account it isn't limited to one socioeconomic class, said Shadrack Mwarigha, Vice-President of Housing and Homeless Services at WoodGreen Community Services, in a recent interview with Beach Metro Community News.

By AHMED DIRIE

With the provincial election just over two weeks away, one of the key issues for candidates and their parties is the affordable housing crisis in Ontario.

The election will take place on June 2.

Despite the pressure on the candidates to address the issue of affordable housing, that topic was not the focus of campaigning early on according to Shadrack Mwarigha, Vice-President of Housing and Homeless Services at WoodGreen Community Services in East Toronto.

“I am not sure that any of the parties have really addressed the issue of affordable, deep affordability, income and supportive housing groups,” said Mwarigha.

“I’m looking for very intentional statements that tell me that that section of the population is not being forgotten, both in terms of providing the services that are needed to keep these people housed, but also in enabling non-profits like WoodGreen to build new housing in that regard for this section of the population.”

Scott Bullock, a member of the Beaches Residents Association who has lived in the community for 30 years, has been keeping a close eye on the state of the housing market and the backlog of people waiting to get into an affordable housing unit.

“A lot of research that we’ve done points us to the fact that there is, in fact, a serious issue here,” said Bullock. “It’s an issue that’s been with us for quite some time. There’s 81,000 people on a waiting list. And according to the Toronto Star, the average wait time for people to get into an actual house when they’re on that waiting list is 7.3 years for a bachelor unit, 12 years for a one-bedroom unit, 11 and a half years for a two-bedroom unit, and 13 years for a three-bedroom unit.

“Those are the average wait times and that’s 81,000 people that are languishing on waiting lists. I think I speak on behalf of many of the people in our group that those are the people that need to be helped first.”

Michael Gennin, also of the Beaches Residents Association and a 12-year resident of the area, said that governments should be held accountable for the housing crisis facing many in Ontario.

“My greatest concern from a broad perspective is the government,” said Gennin. “Any party needs to own up that they’ve caused immense failures in the whole system for decades leading up to this, and really needs to be honest with people about that before moving forward. If we’re talking about the provincial platforms, all of them will just spray more money at the problem.

“A lot of times it just causes more problems, or they will give you a tidbit that sounds good at first glance, but actually will make the problem worse. I think the government just needs to be honest with the people and stop that and make policy that actually makes sense. Because I think what’s going to happen this election, regardless who gets elected, is what we’ve seen in the platforms is going to make the problem worse.”

Donna Braniff, also of the Beaches Resident Association and a Beach resident for almost 36 years, said creative solutions are needed to create more affordable and available housing.

Braniff, and the Beaches Residents Association, support ideas such as garden and laneway suites provided they suit the property.

“You have to look at the houses themselves,” said Braniff. “There’s a lot of houses that a garden suite would just not fit right now. But you have to take a look at the size of the lot and where you could put a garden suite. Moreover the city was also speaking about midrise, putting in fourplexes into neighbourhoods. I think because a lot of these neighbourhoods are older neighbourhoods, they are probably best fitted in where there’s more space, because right now there’s so much densification in this area.”

Some headway has been made with regards to providing more affordable housing in Ontario but continued support is needed, said Abigail Bond, Vice-President Executive Director, City of Toronto Housing Secretariat.

“While the city has seen unprecedented progress over the past two years in terms of ramping up the supply of new affordable and supportive homes and increasing housing affordability for residents, new and enhanced federal and provincial investments are and will be pivotal to Toronto’s continued success,” said Bond.

“These investments include capital funding to create new housing supply; ongoing operating funding (for wraparound health, social and housing supports) to create supportive housing opportunities; rent supports for households living in unaffordable housing and at risk of evictions; and funding for retrofit programs to improve the quality of existing homes.”

One thing the Beaches Residents Association said it doesn’t want to hear from provincial candidates is support for a rollback of the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines which were established by the City of Toronto in 2012.

The guidelines limit the height of buildings along Queen Street East from Coxwell Avenue to Nursewood Road to six storeys.

“Most of the buildings along Queen Street and the Beach are two storeys,” said Bullock. “There’s some that are three and some that are four, but developers wanted to go a lot higher. At that time, they could have done four storeys as of right, meaning that they didn’t have to go to a committee of adjustment, or seek any approval. So they got to go from two to six, or four to six depending on your point of view. But they had to step back the fifth and sixth floors, so that they didn’t loom over the street.”

The guidelines came about after extensive community consultation, including by then area councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon who is running for the Liberals in Beaches-East York in this provincial election.

Bullock said the design guidelines “have worked so effectively to allow for increased density, but not skyscrapers” in the Beach.

Providing more affordable housing while maintaining the character of neighbourhoods such as the Beach is a challenge for all levels of government, but one on which the province can have a large impact through Ministerial Zoning Orders and other legislation on land use.

“I feel that established neighbourhoods like the Beaches, and many others in the city that were built pre car, have this perfect balance of walkability, livability, human scale type of a feel,” said Gennin. “That is something that our group values. It has that heritage, that makes it unique. And we can’t leave that up to developers.”

Bullock said the affordable housing issue won’t be solved in one election cycle but work on it must be started now, and one of the priorities needs to be those 81,000 people on waiting lists.

“It’s about prioritizing. This problem wasn’t created yesterday or the day before, it’s 20 years in the making,” he said.

Affordable housing is a complicated issue that isn’t limited to one socioeconomic class and the solutions need to reflect that, said Mwarigha.

“What you want is for people to come to the platform with the right understanding of the problem,” said Mwarigha.

”It’s very complex. The problem of housing is across the whole spectrum of our population, middle class and lower class, and we just need a solution that’s more balanced. And the one that’s not focusing primarily on home ownership, which is what you tend to see right now, from the current government, even though they have made a commitment that they will address the rest of the issues after the election. But you know, that commitment could have been made upfront. It didn’t have to wait.”

 


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