Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis. This issue was unfortunately made painfully evident during a record-breaking cold snap this past holiday season. The City was not prepared to provide shelter for the growing number of our most vulnerable residents when they needed it most.
This completely unacceptable situation was entirely preventable. My colleague Kristyn Wong-Tam moved a motion at Council in early December to request that the federal government open the downtown Armouries to provide emergency shelter space following the advice of front line workers, advocates, and healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, the Mayor and a majority of Council voting against even making this request. Many members of our community needlessly suffered until the armouries were finally opened a week after the cold snap started. While I was pleased to support a proposal to build 1,000 new shelter beds in this year’s budget to provide a potentially life-saving service during a time of need, we need to address the underlying issues that have led to this marked increase in the homeless population.
Toronto will have closed 1,000 social housing units over the past two years because we have allowed them to fall into disrepair. At the same time that we are boarding up existing housing, the waitlist for a subsidized home now has over 181,000 people. It is unconscionable that Council has spent this term increasing the city’s debt load with wasteful capital projects such as the 1-stop Scarborough subway and the Gardiner East rebuild, while neglecting our most basic priority to house those in need.
These problems, in part, stem from our spiralling rental market. A report by the City Planning department that I requested as Chair of the Tenant Issues Committee found that rents for available units are now over $1,800 a month while the vacancy rate is below 1% “Diversity our Strength” is in danger of becoming a hollow motto if these trends continue. I have requested a comprehensive, cross-divisional strategy be developed to look at ways of making housing more accessible for all tenants because we are stronger when seniors, new immigrants, artists, and students are able to live in our city.