In this newsletter:
Beyond the Money Patchwork – Creating a National Housing Program
Update on the Killer Heat
Toronto: 400 homeless deaths
Summer reading: “PREFAB”
1. Going Beyond the Money Patchwork – Creating a
National Housing Program.
Canadians have been forced to
create a patchwork of funding to develop affordable housing, in what
is widely recognized as a man-made disaster. Canada still needs a
National Housing Program.
municipalities that try to develop housing need to scramble and piece
together monies from various sources, creating a money patchwork for the
three key components of housing:
- Capital - on average a
builder/developer needs at least $75,000 per unit to build.
- Subsidies (or housing
allowances or rent supplements) - to keep the units truly affordable.
- Supports - for staff and
the resources that are necessary to ensure assistance and support for
people with special needs or challenges.
Canadians and more
particularly Ontarians should be furious that promised housing monies are
yet to be seen.
Figures released to the
Toronto Disaster Relief Committee by provincial housing officials in April
show that Ontario created a total of 65 new affordable housing units over
three years. 18 new affordable homes were created in the year ending in
March of 2004. 23 units in the year ending March 2003 and 24 units in the
year ending March 2002. If the provincial government had matched available
federal funds ($213.9 million), Ontario could have created 8,592 new homes
for 23,200 people.
In April 2005, the Ontario
government signed the federal-provincial-territorial housing agreement (for
the third time). The deal commits a total of $600 million dollars, of which
approximately $200 million will come to Toronto. For the first time the
agreement will not require matching dollars from Ontario, meaning there’s
little excuse for Ontario not to move forward and spend. This one-time money
(capital only) will be administered by municipalities and will likely equate
to $75,000 per unit. Flexibility has been introduced to allow some of the
monies to be used for rent supplements. As of August 1st however,
this agreement that was signed in public and in front of national media has
still not been made public! Housing advocates have been repeatedly told that
officials are still meeting to figure out how to roll out the money. Why?
Because we don’t have a provincial housing program, let alone a national
program that spells out how to do it.
Meanwhile, Ontario Minister
of Health and Long-Term Care George Smitherman recently announced $27
million for “affordable housing.” These monies are probably not capital
dollars and there is still not a clear plan on how these monies will be
used. For example, there has been no announcement of a Request for Funding
Proposal (RFP) for organizations like the Edmund Yu Safe House Project to
Back in Ottawa, $1.6 billion
for housing still sits in the bank. The celebrated Layton-Martin budget that
included $1.6 billion for housing over 2 years saw its final seal of
approval last month. The monies are designated for aboriginal housing, urban
renovations (such as the Regent Park redevelopment in Toronto) and general
affordable housing. It is likely that approximately $290 million will go to
But (there’s always a “but”)
the entire $1.6 billion must be allocated this budget year (2005-2006).
Bill C-48 says that the money must be allocated from the federal surplus
which will not be declared until March 2006. Again, because we do not have a
National Housing Program it is not clear how the money will be spent. Will
it be channelled through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation?
Through municipalities? Minister Fontana promises to release the long
awaited strategy document soon.
As of August 1st, rumours
swirl that the federal-provincial-territorial housing ministers will be
meeting in early September in Halifax. Let your MP know that you want to see
real money and a real housing program.
Here’s how to reach your
federal Member of Parliament
Campaign 2000 is planning a
Summer Lobby of MPs on a number of issues including housing. For more
information on how you can help, contact:
Hamoon Ekhtiari at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-595-9230 ex. 226 (all summer)
email@example.com 416-595-9230x241 (away Aug. 15-Sept 2).
Useful Websites: www.campaign2000.ca
2. Update on the Killer Heat
In my July newsletter I
described how Toronto’s front-line workers were forced into disaster relief
mode, in reaction to the heat-related death of a man in a rooming house.
Things quickly went from bad
to worse. The Coroner’s office is now investigating at least 6 heat-related
deaths – all seemingly poor people. Toronto paramedics have never been
busier and City Health inspectors did a blitz of over 150 rooming houses to
check on vulnerable people. A paramedic reported at a City press conference
that the temperature in one room was 41 degrees Celsius. The individual in
this room was sent to hospital and was admitted to Intensive Care.
Front-line workers madly
scrambled to convince City officials to create a stronger heat-safety net
which would match emergency heat plans in other cities around the world
including Chicago, Phoenix and Paris. These cities are dealing much more
effectively with heat issues than Toronto. We have lessons to learn from
Best practices in other
“world class” cities include:
- The office of the Mayor is
used as a successful communication tool to reach the masses in a number of
cities. In Paris, for example, the Mayor makes a special appeal that
people who are vulnerable register with the city’s high risk registry.
- Numerous cities operate
phone registries for people who are vulnerable (such as the elderly and
people with serious health problems) in order that they can be checked on
during heat waves, either by phone or a visit. Chicago, for instance, has
a central 311 line that connects people with heat alert information in the
summer. People can arrange transportation to the nearest cooling centre,
or can register people who are at risk during the heat. The city has teams
that visit those who are at risk. In contrast, Toronto has a 10-digit
phone line staffed by the Red Cross, with no registration line and no
coordinated transportation system.
- Many cities have multiple
24 hour cooling centres with programs including games, nutritious snacks
and food. Transportation assistance is coordinated to bring people to the
cooling centres. In contrast, Toronto has only one 24 hour cooling centre
where only water is provided. As of July 16, juice became available, but
is only offered once someone has fallen ill.
- Many cities run fan and
air conditioning loan programs and ambulances are used to bring fans to
the elderly. In contrast, no such program exists here. TDRC recently
donated $400 to PARC drop-in to help them purchase fans for some of their
more vulnerable clients.
- Several cities assist
low-income people with their utility bills. For example, people who might
receive a donated air-conditioner are provided some assistance to pay
their higher hydro charges. There are no such programs for low-income
tenants in Toronto.
- In other cities,
additional street outreach vans are used to check on people who are
homeless. In contrast, Toronto’s homeless outreach programs have been
reduced despite the heat emergencies.
During an Extreme Heat Alert
on Sunday July 17, I joined the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to deliver
food, cold drinks and snacks to our city’s cooling centre. It felt like it
was the least we could do to make our point. We brought playing cards,
magazines and newspapers and had a picnic with the people there. John Bonnar
captured our visit:
Consider this - in contrast
to our politicians’ response or lack of response during Ontario’s recent
killer heat wave, in France Health Minister Xavier Bertrand announced $31
million in state funding to protect the elderly. This was in reaction to two
recent deaths of elderly homeless people in Brittany.
Here in Ontario, we should be
ashamed of ourselves.
For a long term response to
this issue, leadership has come from the community. The Toronto
Environmental Alliance reacted swiftly to the killer heat and worked with
housing and homeless advocates to further advance long-term measures that
can minimize what is known as the ‘Heat Island Effect.’
The following motion on
Taking Action to Reduce the Heat Island Effect in Toronto
was passed at the July City
Council meeting. The essence of the motion is:
THAT City Council directs staff in
consultation with the Mayor’s Roundtable on the Environment and the Toronto
Atmospheric Fund to prepare a “Heat Island Effect Mitigation” strategy that
would include a requirement that new roofs meet Energy Star requirements,
strategic tree planting to shade buildings, parking lots and other dark
surfaces, and targeted energy conservation measures for low-income housing
that ensure maximum temperature standards, as set by public health
officials, not be exceeded.
Media has been extremely interested in this issue and, needless to say,
anyone who cares about the environment will want to see some leadership.
Stay tuned for updates from me on this in the fall.
3. Toronto: 400
In August I anticipate that
the 400th name of a person, who has died homeless, will be added
to the Memorial Board at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The name might very
well be John or Jane Doe. Why? Because there is not one single level of
government that has ever cared to document this issue.
Who is dying? Why are they
dying? Where are they dying? What is the impact on their friends, families
and on workers? Have policy shifts changed the frequency and nature of
homeless deaths? What are best practices in North America for tracking
deaths? How do other jurisdictions track homeless deaths? How do new privacy
laws help or hinder the release of information from the Coroner’s office?
Does the public have a right to know about the human consequences of not
dealing with homelessness?
These are all questions that
need to be answered. This is the kind of real and useful research that we
need academics and researchers to assist us with.
A 24 hour vigil will be held
to commemorate the 400th death. It will begin Monday August 8 at
6pm and end on Tuesday August 9 at 6 pm. At noon on August 9 a special
Homeless Memorial Service will be held outside, at the Memorial Board at the
Church of the Holy Trinity. Please come if you can, at any point over the 24
4. Summer reading
Last night I had the pleasure
of finishing a wonderful and inspiring book. It’s called PREFAB, by Allison
Arieff and Bryan Burkhart and is published by Gibbs Smith. It’s full of
history, creative ideas and more importantly big colourful pictures! I’ve
been a big fan of pre-fab housing since helping to bring Durakits into Tent
City, but I’m an even bigger fan having read this book.
Did you know that the history
of pre-fab housing goes back to 1624 when houses were shipped from England
to Cape Ann to provide housing for a fishing fleet? Or that pre-fabs were
embraced as an answer to the desperate need for housing after the
devastation of World War I in Europe? Or that houses could at one time be
ordered by mail, for example from Sears, Roebuck and Co? Is it any surprise
that the Swedes are way ahead of us when it comes to pre-fab housing and for
many reasons they have barely any homeless people? IKEA’s “Bo-Klok” (Live
Smart) housing units are both beautiful and affordable. The benefits of pre-fabs
(affordability, ease of construction, aesthetics, portability, and
adaptability) leave me hoping to see a book extolling Canadian pre-fab
virtues as a means to solve our housing crisis.
If IKEA had a kit in their
catalogue I would seriously consider buying one. That’s a hint IKEA.
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