The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for September, 2007
Provincial Elections Highlight the Urgent Need for More Affordable Housing
While affordable housing activists are on alert for a federal election call possibly within the next year, many are also busy mounting campaigns during provincial elections across the country. Their efforts seem to be having an impact.
After campaigning on a pledge to build more affordable housing, the PEI Liberal Party ousted the reigning Conservative government in the provincial election last May. Recently, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer won another majority government for the NDP making the same promises to build more housing while activists in Quebec worked hard to keep the issue front and centre during their provincial election earlier this year.
And groups and organizations are also gearing up for provincial elections in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
But first it’s Ontario turn which has its first fixed-date election on October 10, including a referendum vote on whether to change from the current first-past-the-post to a mixed-member proportional system. In the lead-up to the election, however, anti-poverty and housing activists are making sure the issue of affordable housing gets its fair share of time on the campaign agenda.
A new group has recently formed in Toronto, Network for Poverty Reduction, which will be issuing a challenge to provincial political candidates and parties to come up with a plan to reduce poverty rates by 25 per cent in five years. Contact information is 416-597-5820, ext. 5152, with more information is expected in the coming weeks.
The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) is planning a day of action for Wednesday, September 26 leading up to the Ontario election. Activists are calling on all political parties to commit to build new affordable housing, increase the minimum wage and social assistance rates and provide access without fear to government services for non-status people. TDRC is looking for more group endorsements and people to get involved in planning this major event. They hope people will organize an action in their local community and join a march to Queen’s Park.
Campaign 2000 has issued a report which calls on all Ontario political parties to commit to a “Poverty Reduction Strategy for Ontario” as they finalize their party platforms for the October election. They have also issued a campaign flyer for distribution. They will be releasing a national poverty report in the coming weeks.
A coalition of groups has released a discussion document for the provincial election campaign describing key issues in mental health and addictions in Ontario. “Ontario Election 2007: Focus on Addiction and Mental Health” was produced by CMHA, Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Addictions Ontario. The partnership is calling for a strong provincial mental health and addictions system, including improvements to housing and supports.
Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association is also working to keep affordable housing on the public agenda throughout the campaign.
Some of the provincial party announcements to date include—
Ontario Liberal Party
After getting out of the affordable housing business in the mid-90s, in 2003 the Ontario Liberals got back to building new housing for low-income people, rent controls and more recently rent supplements. Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty promises real protection for tenants and more investment in affordable housing. “We believe the provincial government has a responsibility to help provide affordable housing,” he said. “We will match federal support to create almost 20,000 new housing units for needy Ontario families. We will give priority to the development of affordable housing on Ontario government-owned lands.”
The Liberals also established the Ontario Mortgage and Housing Initiative to provide competitive financing rates for non-profit, co-operative and commercial developers who want to build rental housing in Ontario.
Although no specific affordable housing plan has been announced, the Ontario NDP promise to help the most vulnerable. “Let’s build that affordable housing,” NDP Leader Howard Hampton said. “And let’s stop the clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement – which robs $1,500 a year from our poorest children.” The NDP plan includes uploading all downloaded programs which are a provincial responsibility including social housing. This would mean an extra $645 million for Ontario municipalities in 2008 and $1.4 billion over a four-year plan.
Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory has called for the municipal-provincial review committee, which is currently examining who pays for what, to finish its report by the end of the year rather than Spring of 2008. PC policy is “guided by two principles – that local property taxes should be used principally for local needs; and a fix of provincial municipal finances must be a long-term one with stable, reliable funding.”
While the former Conservative government believed building affordable housing was not a provincial responsibility, Tory promises to continue the current programs, including more revitalization projects to transform aging social housing; more flexibility in the use of funding dollars; growth in the supply of co-operative housing; and a more “realistic” minimum wage.
2007 Innovation Award Finalist: Justice for Children and Youth
In this second year of Eva’s Initiatives Award for Innovation, sponsored by CIBC, three winners were recognized for their outstanding and unique work with homeless youth. Each winning organization received a prize of $5,000. Eva’s Initiatives also selected another five organizations as finalists, including a unique service in Toronto that assists and empowers children and youth to obtain fair and equal access to legal, educational and social resources.Justice for Children and Youth (JFYC) provides legal representation to low-income children and youth in Toronto and vicinity. The service is a non-profit legal aid clinic that specializes in protecting the rights of those facing conflicts with the legal, education, social service or mental health systems. Workers give summary legal advice, information and assistance to young people, parents (in education matters), professionals and community groups across Ontario.One example of the kind of work the organization has undertaken involved representation of young people ticketed under the Safe Streets Act for squeegeeing and panhandling. The defendants challenged the constitutionality of the legislation on several grounds. Although the Supreme Court of Canada recently dismissed the application, the legal action brought attention to the issues facing young people on the streets. Street Youth Legal Services (SYLS) is a program delivered by JFCY providing legal information, advice, and referrals to street-involved youth through workshops and individual consultations. Street-involved young people often have multiple and interconnected legal problems. Complex barriers, including a lack of financial resources, social isolation and mistrust often prevent clients from getting the help they need. The SYLS project delivers legal information and services directly to young street-involved people in drop-in centres and shelters—the places where they congregate to access other services, such as health care, food, employment assistance and counselling. JFCY also maintains a long list of other programs and partnerships. Among them is a partnership with HARP, which is working to address barriers that exist for many homeless people trying to access legal services. There is also a Youth Action Committee, which is composed of young people who serve in an advisory role. As well, JFCY and The Advocates Society work together with Pro Bono Law Ontario to increase the availability of trained and experienced lawyers to help young people with education cases. JFCY is a partner with the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law and Toronto District School Board who have established Canada’s first law-and-justice-themed high school program in two downtown Toronto high schools—Central Technical School and Harbord Collegiate Institute. The LAWS program is expected to increase high school completion rates among students and encourage them to go on to college or university.
Street Health Report
On September 19, the Wellesley Institute will be releasing the Street Health Report 2007 which presents the findings of a survey of 368 homeless adults in Toronto on their health and access to health care. This study was conducted in the winter of 2006/2007 by Street Health, a community-based health care organization working with homeless and under-housed people in downtown Toronto.
The report reveals a picture of homelessness in Toronto that demands immediate action and outlines a series of recommendations to improve the health of homeless people and to ultimately end homelessness. The same day the National Film Board of Canada will be launching its “Street Health Stories” exhibit, a collection of portraits and audio-recordings of the voices of some of the survey participants.
The Wellesley Institute, a community-based research, policy and capacity-building institute, recommended, as part of its 2007 pre-budget submission, that the provincial government increase affordable housing spending to meet the urgent need for healthy and affordable homes.