Monday, 7 December 2015

Top 5 Reasons I’m hopeful that we’re making progress on affordable housing in Toronto

This is a guest post written by Heather Tremain, CEO of Options for Homes.

Earlier in my career I worked in green building – at a time when there were many cynics and I heard a lot of ‘it’s not possible.’ I crossed over into another area where there is much skepticism and at times resignation. From green building I learned how to spot signs of possible change and glimmers of hope. Here is where I see some light in the affordable housing ‘space’:

1. Mayor John Tory has been removing red tape and increasing funding

In just the past week, Mayor Tory made a big announcement about a new City Building fund, a 0.5% increase in property taxes to fund housing and transit. No details yet but it points to a desire to take action. I applaud this. The announcement comes on the heels of the City’s Open Door report that proposes to fast-track approvals for new affordable ownership and rental as well as providing additional financing incentives and access to land.

2. The collaborative nature of our city builders

Canadian Urban Institute’s Leadership Day forum last week included a panel discussion with a diverse group of individuals weighing in. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief of Police Mark Saunders, Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown, and City Librarian Vickery Bowles were panelists, and engaged in spirited dialogue between normally “siloed” organizations. What I heard was a growing understanding that the complex challenges our city faces will be solved through collaboration and ultimately everyone owns a piece of that solution.

3. The quality of our urban leaders

We have some strong leadership in housing in Councillor Ana Bailao (a tireless champion for affordable housing), Mayor Tory and the staff in the Affordable Housing office are working to create the tools to enable more housing – across the continuum.

I’m also energized by the work of the GTA Housing Action Lab, led by Evergreen that is bringing together housing sector leaders, both non-profit and for profit, homebuilders associations, policy makers, financiers, and researchers, to develop programs and policies that support the affordability of housing and ensure residents of all incomes have the best chance to live in a suitable home and have a choice in their housing.

4. The alignment of governments

This is the first time in my lifetime that I can recall such a convergence of interest across Municipal, Provincial, and Federal governments around affordable housing in our cities and an appetite for making progress quickly. We eagerly await the release of the Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, (due out shortly) and the unveiling of the Federal government who were elected with a strong urban mandate to see how this convergence will play out.

5. The conversation is shifting

At Options. we kicked off National Housing Week with other affordable home ownership providers at a Habitat for Humanity build swinging hammers and mastering the use of screw guns. Our morning kicked off with Minister McMeekin talking about ‘housing as infrastructure’. This was music to my ears… it’s something I have been saying for quite some time. Like pipes in the ground and transit, housing is part of what makes a city work– and needs to work for the people who live there. And it’s something we need to invest in.

It does feel like the moment for housing is now. I am both confident and hopeful that, after many years of stagnation on this issue, there are good things to come in affordable housing. 2016 promises to be an exciting year on this file!

Heather Tremain is CEO of Options for Homes, Canada’s largest delivery agent of affordable home ownership. Now in its 21st year, Options creates ownership opportunities for households with incomes as low as $25,000.00 per year. From the first development in Toronto’s Distillery District, to a new development under construction in Cameroon, Africa, Options organizations have created homes for over 6500 households using a unique housing model. Options Toronto is about to break ground on two new projects that together will enable 525 families to own their own homes.