Addressing Housing Inequities by Leading with Courage

Several weeks ago while running north on Bathurst Street, I noticed a homeless encampment at Alexandra Park which is located south of Dundas Street and within proximity of Toronto Western Hospital.  While I am familiar several of these camps already existent including under the Gardiner Expressway, in the Rosedale Valley and at Moss Park, this one was new and is symptomatic of a larger problem in housing in the region.

The evidence is quite clear. The lack of equitable and affordable housing options has been exacerbated by the COVID. With job losses, tenants have been falling behind in paying rents and where some evictions have occurred.

Then there is the continued narrative of leaving large metropolises for the suburbs.  This narrative first played out in a New York Times article from May 17th Where New Yorkers Moved to Escape Coronavirus.  Highlights from this article included:

  • Wealthiest areas witnessed the most movement to Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York.
  • Black and LatinX neighbourhoods, where most essential workers reside, had far fewer mail forwarding requests.

Roman Suarez said it best: “Whenever New Yorkers go through stuff, the best thing to do is just be there”.

So when listened a recent podcast episode of Hello Monday where Jessi Hempel interviewed three people from diverse backgrounds who left their cities for the suburbs, it gave me pause from an equity perspective.

There has been an exodus to the suburbs from Canadian cities, but not widely reported as much as it has been in the US. COVID was the “push” it some families needed, supposedly.

Northwest Toronto being hit hard the most by COVID with Blacks, who are predominantly employed in low paying service sector and health care jobs, and who live in social housing. These health, income and housing disparities have only been exacerbated greater.

While current issues of homelessness and racial and social disparities are occurring, action has been taken in the meantime.

While the National Housing Strategy is two years in, building affordable purpose built rental is playing catch up.  Housing TO Action Plan is playing catch up with its 10 year strategy, but it takes funding from all levels of government and support from the private and non-profit sectors.  While there has been recent initiatives in building affordable housing such ones in London and Hamilton by Indwell, a workforce housing in Toronto , and the recent announcement by the Federal Government with the National Co-Housing Investment Fund, there is a still a long way to go.

The Ontario Government recently passed two legislations that affect housing in the province but not without some backlash.

First is Bill 184 – Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act which took into effect on August 1. 

  • claims it will better protect people facing eviction during the pandemic by increasing fines for unlawful eviction and will push landlords to establish repayment agreements with tenants before considering evictions. 
  • During my time in the co-op sector, several times I negotiated repayment agreements if tenants fell into arrears, so this is not something new, but could be for private landlords.   Of course I was blind to the equity implications of these types of agreements.
  • Those affected by these agreements could be tenants where English isn’t their first language, those with cognitive, learning and physical disabilities, etc.
  • Signing a repayment agreement and if breached without going to Landlord and Tenant Board tribunal, could fast track evictions.

The Province also passed Bill 108 More Homes, More Choice Act which made sweeping planning and environmental changes to address the housing crisis, but without deserved opprobrium from municipalities.

Cities with affordable housing have economic benefits. They are resilient and will evolve, as this Kinder report stated from earlier this year. Not without becoming cognizant that racial equity, health and housing are interconnected.  Municipal leaders across the country must lead with courage to address these issues.  They must spearhead initiatives to avert and eradicate homelessness such as building modular supportive housing units,  and using hotels as shelters, regulate short term rentals further during this housing crisis  (AirBNB’s founder even admitted they made mistakes and they need to rethink their impact on cities).

There must be continued dialogue by building partnerships with other sectors and delivering policies that are resilient, environmentally friendly, economically strong while ensuring housing aligns with human rights by way of addressing health, racial and social equity. 

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