For almost one in seven Ontarians at any given time, finding appropriate housing that they can afford is a serious challenge. Driven by long-standing supply- and demand-side pressures, there is simply a gap between what these households need, what they can afford, and what housing is available. When individuals are in housing need, it creates challenges that ripple throughout other aspects of their lives, creating obstacles to financial security, good health, educational success, and employment prospects.
This problem is not new and for eight decades the federal government—later joined by provincial and local governments—has played a key role in addressing these challenges for Canadians. These initiatives have taken a number of forms, but the most concrete assistance has been the development of the government-supported social housing stock that provides rental housing to around five per cent of Ontarians.
With very little purpose-built rental housing constructed in Ontario in the past two decades, it is unlikely the affordability gap will narrow. In spite of this persistent challenge, federal support for social and affordable housing in Ontario has waned. Federal funding for new social housing stopped in 1993. At the same time, ongoing federal funding for existing social housing projects is decreasing every year and will fully expire in 2033, with the result that many of these projects will no longer be viable. Recent federal announcements renewing funding for the Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program until 2018-19 are welcome but insufficient. Funding through the IAH is a modest expenditure and accounts for only 12 per cent of current federal spending on social and affordable housing and is targeted at lower- and modest-income households. It is not directed toward the most vulnerable—the 250,000 households living in existing social housing, who are in need of deeper, rent-geared-to-income supports.