Housing policy developments you need to know about

September 29, 2020

September 2020 ushered in significant housing policy developments, with the Government of Canada and City of Toronto both taking a solid step in the right direction, and the Ontario government making some progress while still lagging behind its counterparts.

As we enter the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, these developments – big and small – could not come at a better time.

Here we’ve distilled the most important aspects that you need to know.

The City of Toronto moves forward on their ten-year housing plan

Toronto’s HousingTO 2020-2030 Implementation Plan was released on September 15, nine months after the City made an historic commitment to realize the right to housing. It contains the very first details of how the City intends to address affordable housing and homelessness over the next ten years.

The City has set the following ten-year targets:

  • Spend $23.4 billion, which is dependent on receiving $14.9 billion from the federal and provincial governments combined, and is in addition to ongoing annual operating funding
  • Provide 40,000 new affordable homes, which includes specific targets:
    • 18,000 supportive homes for individuals experiencing homelessness, those at risk of homelessness, or other priority groups (ie. youth, seniors, people with physical and developmental disabilities, etc.)
    • 5,000 for Indigenous households
    • 25% for girls and women-led households

While the City’s plan is a good next step to realize its commitments, key details including timelines and concrete dates, as well as additional resources, are needed to better understand how and when the City will reach the targets it has set for itself. Last week we identified the good and the gaps in their plan.

The good:

  • The City has managed to produce a plan within the timeframe in which it had committed to do so, despite all the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The plan reaffirms the City’s commitment to the right to housing, and the specific chapters dedicated to Indigenous communities, youth, women, and seniors are in line with a rights-based approach

The gaps:

  • The City’s targets fall far short of responding to the scale of the housing and homelessness crisis
  • The City has made no concrete commitment to establish a Housing Commissioner’s office, which is an essential accountability mechanism to ensure correct measures are in place, targets are met, and recommendations are made to guide sustainable and effective housing policy

We also delivered our ideas of what we are hoping to see in the plan to the City’s Planning and Housing Committee, including establishing an Office of the Housing Commissioner and continued investment in eviction prevention services as a way to ensure the positive gains made by the HousingTO Plan are not erased.

In short, we asked the City to:

  • Set clear timelines, targets, and guidelines to establish an Office of the Housing Commissioner
  • Immediately increase investments in eviction prevention programs during the upcoming budget cycle

What’s next

The Planning and Housing Committee met on September 22 to discuss the implementation plan, and made several recommendations for improvements, in some instances even pushing for more ambitious targets. The Committee’s recommendations will be taken up by Toronto City Council at their meetings on September 30th and October 1st, where we will keep a watchful eye and report on further developments regarding the future of their housing plan.

Tune into Toronto City Council meetings:

The Ontario government proposes a rent freeze for 2021

On September 17, the Ontario government proposed Bill 204, a piece of legislation to temporarily freeze residential rent increases in 2021 for most rent-controlled and non-rent-controlled units.

Here is what you need to know about your rent in 2021:

  • Your rent will not increase between January 1 to December 31, 2021
    • If you have already received a notice of rent increase that would take effect on any date in 2021, it is void
  • Landlords can begin to deliver a notice of rent increase on October 1, 2021, with the increase to take effect on January 1, 2022

Cracks in the ice

While the freeze will certainly provide some relief to Ontarian renters, the legislation fails on two major areas which housing and tenant advocates – including CERA – had called on the government to address:

  • Financial incentives for landlords to evict tenants:
    Without the usual annual rent increase to look forward to, landlords are financially incentivized to seek other means to increase their profits. One way they can do that is by evicting their current tenant, and increasing the rent by as much as the market will allow for their next tenant. Landlords are permitted to do so because of vacancy decontrol – a policy that ties rent increases to a tenancy rather than to a unit. Housing advocates called on the Ontario government to include vacancy control in their legislation, which would restrict the amount a landlord could raise the rent between tenancies. Unfortunately, this corrective measure was not included in the government’s proposed legislation.
  • Freezing above-guideline increases:
    Landlords can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to increase their tenant’s rent above the annual increase amount, which is set by the province. An Above-Guideline Increase (AGI) for tenants may be permitted if a landlord pays for major repairs or renovations that are larger than normal ongoing maintenance work. There is another troubling trend that concerns AGIs, where landlords neglect to perform regular maintenance to the point where major repairs are needed, at which point they and offload their expenses onto tenants through an AGI. Under Bill 204, AGIs have not been included in the rent freeze, again despite housing and tenant advocates’ calls on the government to take this additional step.

The Government of Canada advances their housing commitments in the Throne Speech

The Government of Canada made several announcements related to housing and homelessness in their highly-anticipated Speech from the Throne on September 23, effectively moving their National Housing Strategy forward in a crucial moment for the country.

These are the commitments the Government of Canada has made related to housing and homelessness:

  • Invest in affordable housing:
    • Through the Rapid Housing Initiative, spend $1 billion to create 3,000 affordable housing units across the country by March 2021, including converting buildings that are currently housing homeless individuals into permanent housing
    • Eliminate chronic homelessness – a significant advancement from their earlier commitment to simply reduce chronic homelessness
    • Enhance the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive
  • Implement standards for long-term care homes:
    • Work with the provinces and territories to set new, national standards for long-term care
    • Take additional action to help people stay in their homes longer
  • Prioritize women’s safety:
    • Accelerate investments in shelters and transition housing, and place women’s safety as the foundation on which all progress is built
  • Build strong communities:
    • Invest in all types of infrastructure, including affordable housing, particularly for Indigenous Peoples and northern communities

While these are all laudable goals, we look forward to seeing key detail and resources to support the implementation of these commitments. Stay tuned for further updates and analysis from CERA as the government releases more detail on their plans.

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