New construction offers hope for affordable housing

By PAT WATSON

In August 2017, the Toronto Real Estate Board pegged the average overall price of a house in Toronto at $732, 292 and in September, the average rose to $775,546. And, there are houses, well mansions, in the downtown to mid-town area of Toronto that are listed in the multi-million-dollar range. They do not fall under the affordable housing heading.

In the face of those realities, the cry continues from the low- and middle-income segment of the population for adequate, affordable shelter. Many still aspire to the great Canadian dream of home ownership. Never mind the annual property tax, water fees, utility payments, property maintenance, homeowners’ insurance and whatever other costs come with having one’s name on the deed.

Home ownership comes with status and, more fundamentally, is considered a solid form of investment security. The message hasn’t taken hold yet that the dream is nearly impossible for a new generation coming into adulthood. The expectation is still there.

The low interest rate that the Bank of Canada held on to for close to a decade along with a surge in arrivals to this city resulted in a rush on real estate transactions that help keep the economy solvent during hard times, but at the same time resulted in ridiculously inflated prices.

Periodically, the opportunity is offered up to allow a few to be blessed with owning the dream. Along those lines, condominium units and townhouses offer better possibilities for home ownership among lower- and middle-income families. Of course, depending on willingness to purchase in the farther reaches of the city and suburban areas.

A recent planned groundbreaking is what brought the affordable shelter issue into focus. Under the Build Toronto plan, construction is going forward for 68 townhouses of one- to three-bedroom units in the Rogers Rd. and Bicknell neighbourhood with the special feature that it is aimed at middle-income earners. The units start at $300,000 and the project is being constructed on lands that had been within the Toronto Transit Commission portfolio.

Move-in is set for October next year, in time for Mayor John Tory and Councillor Frank di Giorgio, representative of Ward 12 York South Weston where the construction is being built, to highlight it going into next year’s municipal election campaigning.

An interesting feature of the purchase plan, which is part of Build Toronto, is people who earn an income below the median – that would be below $78,000 in Toronto – can receive a second mortgage from Trillium Housing that would be repayable at the time of resale. This offers hope for those who can show – whether below the media or not – that they have a stable income.

Adding to possibilities, the province is also freeing up land within the city in the West Don Lands area and at Yonge and College for residential construction for mixed income households. For those who need affordable shelter right now, that massive open space along Yonge St. cannot be completed fast enough.

So, there is room for hope on the horizon for affordable housing for some people in Toronto. The real concern is the slow pace at which these properties come into being. The Build Toronto Loop project has been at least three years in coming. Furthermore, these are projects aimed at home ownership. There are 170,000 other households that cannot afford to purchase a property. Those people just wish to be able to find a place to rent and still be able to afford a reasonably healthy lifestyle.

A note on a tipping point…

As names are revealed in the news of serial abusers, can we begin to hope that the centuries-old norm of using sexual harassment and sexual assault to exert power over women and girls is about to undergo a significant shift?

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter @patprose.

This opinion column ran on page 6 in the November 16, 2017 issue of Share newspaper. http://www.share news.com

 

 

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Annual basic income pilot project about to take off

Annual basic income pilot project about to take off

By PAT WATSON

Four thousand households in Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay are about take part in what has been termed a pilot project to learn the effects of receiving an annual basic income.

This experiment set to run for three years has been decades in the making, with retired Conservative senator Hugh Segal having been a driving force.

The $75-million fund will give provide single persons just under $17,000 per year, equivalent to 75 per cent of an annual low-income measure of about $22,650, while couples would receive about $24,000. A feature of the plan would be to take back 50 per cent of any earned income. People with a low income, and that includes disability payments, are the priority applicants for the pilot program.

The fact that the Ontario government is even going ahead with this experiment means a level of recognition of the failure of the poverty paradigm. It actually costs more money to maintain a segment of society below the low-income median, with all the various fields that are funded to ostensibly assist those living in poverty. Note that some occupations help people who are in poverty. It does not help them out of poverty. Helping agencies are chronically underfunding so that they are never fully effective enough in their mandate. Furthermore, professionals in the social service field are chronically overworked, bogged down by whatever policy limitations exist within the agencies that employ them and endless – some would say needless – paperwork.

A recent series of reports in the Toronto Star for example detail what happened in the process of finding an apartment for one man who had been living on the streets for a number of years. The main point was the agency tasked with this is understaffed and therefore cannot be as efficient and thorough in supporting clients to a better transition away from living on the streets or spending winter nights in bug and disease infested temporary shelters.

The client eventually moved back to the streets because the $950 per month basement apartment was substandard. That is a failure of service.

The range of reasons that find people ending up within the low-income sector is varied. One in particular being felt by a broad group is the changing nature of the job market. The increasing demand for skills that service the robotics and Internet revolution has caught many entering the labour force unprepared. Without hard skills, the low-wage service industry is then the job option most widely available.

The other trend toward limited-term, project-specific employment has given rise to a population of workers newly termed the precariat, in reference to the precariousness of job stability. Precariats participate in the gig economy – as in a gig here and a gig there. This is not a foundation for a stable life.

People who cannot find a decent income are less likely to live independently. Already in Toronto, 56.5 per cent of young people in Toronto still live with their parents. People still dependent on their parents in one way or another are not about to get married and start families. That may sound nice for those who believe in limiting population, but with an aging population and not enough caregivers available, the picture begins to look different. Furthermore, these demographics are growing.

Let’s hope therefore, this pilot project shows great results. When a similar experiment was done in the farming town of Dauphin, Manitoba from 1974-79, there were significant positive outcomes including an increase in school attendance, improved quality of family life, decrease in domestic violence and markers of improved health and wellness.

The time has come for a new income distribution paradigm. Universal basic income may be an answer if it is configured for optimal benefit. My main fear has to do with what typically results when the bureaucracy takes priority.

A note on the March for Science…

The problem is not with scientific discovery; it is with formulation and interpretation. Remembering the history of scientific experimentation using Black bodies, we must be very circumspect.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter @patprose.

Maintaining public housing status quo wrong

TCHC

By PAT WATSON

Mould, leaking ceilings, broken windows covered with cardboard, leaking rusty plumbing. Any of these could be describing housing conditions on any one of the poorly supported reserves where indigenous people live in Northern Ontario. But they also describe conditions crying out for attention within the properties managed by the City of Toronto.

The list of problems would also have to include the rate of violent crime that occurs on or in the vicinity of public housing property, which exceeds the rate in other parts of the city.

Is it too far a stretch to characterize City management as a slumlord?

Here is what the mayor’s Task Force looking into the crisis we call Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) came back with: “TCHC is an organization that, because of its history and structure, is unsustainable financially, socially and from an operating and governance perspective.”

Yet, rather than do away with this whole enterprise, the Task Force has come back with two main recommendations about the structure of the organization, both of which would mean keeping TCHC in existence in one form or another.

The Task Force has recommended changing the name of TCHC to NewHome. NewHome, old home, what’s the difference if it looks and functions no differently?

– See more at: http://sharenews.com/maintaining-public-housing-status-quo-wrong/#sthash.4b51f6RC.dpuf

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens.

Subsidized Housing task force response lipstick on a crumbling pig

TCHC task force response lipstick on a crumbling pig

By PAT WATSON

Have you ever sat in an exam, written what you thought was a really good response to an essay question, only to find out that you did not read the directions for the question properly? No matter how well you wrote the paper, you then get a failing grade. In some sense, that is what we could make of the recent announcement from the executive at Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) regarding how they plan to improve the portfolio.

The plan of action sounds rosy, but does it truly answer the key problem, which is the model of public housing that now burdens the city? That burden includes a growing $1.7 billion backlog of repairs on a heap of crumbling bricks and mortar that houses more than 50,000 people in 2,200 TCHC buildings.

The promises for improvement follow the interim report put out in July as part of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing. Tory has made some comments about what needs to be done to improve safety and security within TCHC sites, among them evicting residents involved in criminal activity. For most TCHC residents, this latter is a pointless argument, as they are being wrongly characterized in this matter. Many who use TCHC property as sites for doing illegal business are not residents.

The report coming from TCHC Chair Bud Purves and interim CEO Greg Spearn places a good deal of emphasis on increasing security as well as providing information to residents about how to anonymously report crimes. Crime, including bodily harm and murder, occur more often per capita in and near TCHC property than in other parts of the city. Safety and security will always be an important concern, but to overlook the environmental design and social components that would allow for a higher rate of occurrence is to write the wrong answer to the question.

However, to show they mean business, the city plans to re-mortgage the properties in order to finance the $400 million they plan to spend over two years, starting almost immediately, to carry out such initiatives as pest control, job creation and increased security features.

But picture TCHC workers putting security cameras on the side of a building only to have them fall off along with bricks a few days later. It could happen. An entire four floors of brick facing fell from a TCHC building in Scarborough back in April, just as the spring thaw was setting in. Imagine if it was only the cold that had been holding those bricks in place.

No. Putting lipstick on a pig is not the best answer that could have come out of this task force. How about…

– See more at: http://sharenews.com/tchc-task-force-response-lipstick-on-a-crumbling-pig/#sthash.emRPQLkX.dpuf