Ask Your Candidate: Housing

By: Cherise Seucharan

With a lack of affordable housing vacancies, rent prices on the rise, and social housing steadily deteriorating, housing is an urgent city issue that has not yet been addressed in this municipal race. It is all the more critical due to Ontario’s funding structure- unlike other provinces, social housing is municipally, not provincially funded, which puts pressure on the city to meet a variety of housing needs. Women, in particular, are uniquely affected by the lack of affordable housing in Toronto, as they are often the prime or single caregivers in a household, and face lower income prospects than men. Additionally, more affordable housing, particularly for mothers and newcomers, means children are less likely to be raised in poverty, which increases the overall prosperity and well-being of our city.

What is your strategy to provide more affordable housing?

The growth of condominium developments is a contentious issue for many Torontonians, representing the prioritization of higher-priced “lifestyle” housing. Meanwhile, the availability of affordable housing in the city is declining. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs about “30 percent of a household’s before-tax income”, and government policies are designed to take this measure into account when planning housing developments. However, as the number of condos being built exceeds the number of affordable units, demand has increased for the affordable places, driving up overall rent prices. Ask your candidate if they are willing to work with higher levels of government, as well as public and private housing bodies, to ensure there is more affordable housing.

Would you vote in favour of requesting more funding from the federal and provincial government for housing projects?

Earlier this year city council voted almost unanimously to request funding from higher levels of government, in order to support an estimated $2.6 billion in much-needed repairs for Toronto Community Housing residences. Mayor Ford then travelled to Ottawa to make the request known, but was met with an unfavourable response from the federal government. The TCHC has a long backlog of repairs needed for their deteriorating properties, and the city currently cannot afford these repairs without extra funds. Ask if your candidate would support a push for the extra funding needed.

How would you shorten the social housing waitlist?

Despite the previously mentioned attempts at procuring funds, there are still over 165,000 people on the waitlist for social housing in Toronto. Social housing is defined as “housing that is owned and operated by government or non-profit organizations where a portion or full amounts of the rents are subsidized,” and can exist in the form of housing co-ops, and private and public non-profit residences. Province-wide, the “affordability gap” is widening, with more families having to pay a larger portion of their income on housing, indicating a likely increase in the amount of social housing needed. How do the candidates in your ward plan on addressing the ever-lengthening wait list for affordable housing in Toronto?

How would you restore credibility to the TCHC?

Described as the “largest landlord in the country”, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation manages all of the public non-profit housing in the city, with a total of 164,000 residents. The TCHC has come under fire in recent years for numerous human rights violations, including allegations of abusive treatment of seniors, detailed in a report from the Ombudsman. The controversy prompted a restructuring of TCHC staff, but this past April, Gene Jones, the newly chosen CEO, was ousted amidst another scandal. With a recent history marked by scandal, the city should focus on strategies to restore credibility and higher standards to the organization.

How would you help to meet the varied needs of Toronto’s homeless population?

There is high stress placed on Toronto’s shelters to provide for the needs of the homeless in ways for which they were not originally equipped. While occupancy for beds at shelters is consistently high, shelters are also adapting to provide longer-term and assisted-needs housing, and to address the specific needs of women and the increasing number of homeless youth.  Additionally, the high number of people on the social housing wait-list is an indicator of those who are at risk for homelessness. What plans does your candidate have for alleviating this stress on Toronto’s shelters?

 

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Ask Your Candidate: Taxes

By: Seb FoxAllen

In elections, candidates use taxes as an easy way to position themselves as opponents or defenders of the size of government. Lowering taxes costs residents less, but the lost revenue also means that existing services need to be cut (or supported by a user fee) in order to balance the books. Raising taxes can equip the city with more revenue to provide services, but some residents wonder whether that money is being used effectively in ways that matter to them. The City of Toronto earns tax revenue through two main streams: Property taxes (39.4% of total city revenues) and the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (3.6% of total city revenues).

1. Can Toronto afford to maintain property tax rates lower than the regional average?

One of the central municipal revenue tools is property taxes. In 2014, the average Toronto resident will pay roughly 25% less in property taxes than those in nearby municipalities like Mississauga and Richmond Hill.

Property taxes are not only paid by homeowners; they are also factored into monthly unit rental prices. If a candidate refers to Torontonians as “over-taxed” or struggling under an unfair tax burden, ask them why Toronto does not require the same revenue levels as other cities.

2. Would you consider increasing taxes over the inflationary rate?

Taxes are raised by a small amount each year to adjust for inflation. When candidates talk about cutting taxes, they are often proposing an increase smaller than inflation.

Recently, City Manager Joe Pennachetti told City Council that “[i]nflationary rates aren’t going to maintain services into the future,” arguing that even keeping taxes at current levels will require cuts to programs and services. Pennachetti also stressed that the types of small internal “efficiencies” often used to cut costs have been exhausted.

Ask your candidate whether they would support collecting larger revenues from property taxes and, if not, what new revenue streams (user fees for services, privatization) or cuts to programs they would use to counter the lost income.

3. How can the City make it easier for renters to understand their property tax contribution?

Many renters are not aware that they pay property taxes as part of their rent. In many cases, renters pay even more in property taxes than other types of tenants. Ask your candidate whether they have ideas (like expanding the Rent Reduction Program) on how to better inform renters of their property tax contributions.

4. Do you support maintaining the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT)?

The MLTT is paid when purchasing new land or a new home. Ask your candidate whether they support maintaining it, and if not, how the City would offset the $340 million the MLTT generates.