Monday, March 14th was a remarkable day! At 9:00 a.m. in Fred Victor’s Open House Drop-in at our historic Queen and Jarvis site — where for decades homeless and low-income people have come indoors to find a supportive hand — Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, made an announcement. And the contents of the announcement have the potential to dramatically shift the story about homelessness in Toronto, the one that's been told since the mid-90s.
Minister McMeekin said “I’m here today to launch our updated long term affordable housing strategy. It is bold. And it is transformative!!” Deputy Premier Deb Matthews credited Minister McMeekin with putting “his heart and soul” into the strategy.
The core of the announcement that signals such a significant shift in the story of homelessness in Toronto, and other urban centres in Ontario, is $178 M for: homelessness prevention; portable housing benefits (ie. subsidy moves with the person rather than being fixed to a unit); the addition of supportive housing units; and the development of an indigenous housing strategy.
A key additional piece of the announcement was the Ministry’s commitment to propose legislation on inclusionary zoning that would enable municipalities to mandate the inclusion of affordable housing units in new development projects. If Toronto had done this five years ago, we’d now have 12,000 more units of affordable housing here.
What led to this siginficant announcement? The Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness and other homelessness research and advocacy gave birth to the report titled, A Place to Call Home. The report informed the updated long term strategy, and the announcement was all about the updated strategy. Jane Eastwood, Fred Victor’s Community Programs Director, knowledgably presented perspective and ideas on poverty and homelessness to the expert advisory panel.
Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) Deb Matthews and Minister McMeekin sought input for the updated strategy from on-the-ground organizations such as Fred Victor. Gautam Mukherjee, Director of Program Development and Partnerships at Fred Victor, reported that: “We argued for a portable housing benefit. When the ADM came to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association Board, I suggested that the current system holds people hostage to their units because their income assistance is tied to their address. She later told me that comment made a big impact on her and that she repeated it with the Minister.”
He further noted, “We consulted with several of our staff teams and with people who use our services. Notably, many service users stated that they feel the emphasis should be on “income geared to rent” rather than “rent geared to income” or creating more supply of RGI housing. Service users stated that the RGI system creates ‘ghettos of poverty’.”
At the announcement event on March 14th at Fred Victor, speeches were made by Mayor John Tory; Deputy Premier Deb Matthews; Ted McMeekin, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister; Glen Murray, MPP for Toronto Centre (Fred Victor’s riding), Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara who is the current President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario; and the Regent Park redeveloper Mitchell Cohen of the Daniels Corporation. MPs Adam Vaughn (Spadina Fort York) and Parkdale’s Cheri DeNovo also attended the event.
Fred Victor Executive Director Mark Aston welcomed and thanked the public representatives as well as the guests who came from a wide range of organizations: The Co-op Housing Federation of Canada, The Greater Toronto Apartment Association, Rooftops, The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Toronto’s Affordable Housing Office and the Daniels Corporation, to name a few.
Mayor John Tory spoke about the need to continue to find ways to bring the private sector into partnership with the goal of creating a City that makes sense from a human, as well as an economic perspective.
Two people who previously used Fred Victor services generously offered their stories of recovery from homelessness, mental instability and unemployment. Here they are above, Alex and Rupa, and here are their stories.
Deputy Premier Deb Matthews offered kind words of praise for Fred Victor. “I want to say thank you to Fred Victor. Thank you for hosting us today. And thank you for showing such extraordinary leadership… You’re carrying on a legacy more than a century old but you are by no means stuck in the past. You’re constantly evolving, changing and responding to opportunities and challenges.”