1: Funding for new affordable housing. Folks are waiting 10 years for subsidized housing. More than 70,000 are on the waiting list in Toronto alone. The McGuinty Grits are trumpeting a $734 million deal with the feds and city that will net 15,000 units and 5,000 rent supplements province-wide. But after a decade of neglect (thanks, Paul Martin and Mike Harris), we need billions to get back on track. Canada is an embarrassment when it comes to social housing; it's only 5 per cent of our total housing stock, compared to 40 per cent in the Netherlands.
2: Bring back rent controls. The province says vacancy rates of 3 to 4 per cent are enough to keep rents from going through the roof. Actually, no. Higher vacancy rates don't necessarily translate into lower rents (overall, rents increased by 31 per cent between 1997 and 2002), since most vacancies occur at the higher end of the market. The current system allows unlimited rent increases on units when tenants leave, giving landlords an incentive to evict. Dalton McGuinty promised in 2003 to "repeal the Harris-Eves government's Tenant Protection Act and bring back rent controls." We're still waiting, Dalton.
3: Overhaul the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal. Half of Torontonians are tenants, but the eviction machine also known as the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal has been carrying out what Parkdale Community Legal Services describes as a policy of "economic cleansing." The pursuit and eviction of tenants is alarming: from 1998 to 2001, 57 per cent of eviction applications were granted without a hearing. In effect, the Tribunal has removed the right of tenants to be heard. A change in leadership, management and culture is overdue.
4: Raise shelter allowances. Tenants are poor. More than a quarter here earn less than $20,000 a year. Many rely on welfare or disability to pay rent. But Ontario Works pays a measly $195 a month for shelter for a single person in subsidized housing, $427 for those not living in rent-geared-to-income housing. That doesn't go far when the average rent hovers around $800 a month and a paltry 3 per cent of one-bedrooms go for less than $600.
5: Re-enact the Rental Housing Protection Act. Some 17,515 rental units were lost to condo conversion or demolition in the GTA between 1996 and 2002 -- 44 per cent more than were built each year. Ontario has proposed some measure of protection, but the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario is calling for an immediate freeze on conversions and demolitions and amendments to the Municipal Act that would give Toronto the power to regulate the loss of rental housing. A bill tabled in 2002 died before second reading. Bring it back.
6: Abolish above-guideline rent increases. Landlords are getting away with robbery, topping up provincially mandated annual rent increases with above-guideline hikes for "upgrades" that aren't needed (marble in the lobby when tenants have rotting cupboards). Some landlords have even tried to pass off regular maintenance as upgrades to justify higher rents when they already receive an annual 2 per cent bonus for capital expenditures. Enough already.
7: Give up surplus public land for affordable housing. The high cost of land remains the single biggest obstacle to not-for-profits, co-ops and other forms of affordable housing. The city is sitting on literally hundreds of surplus properties (including more than a few choice locales in the core), but in the interest of maximizing returns has historically sold to the highest bidder (read condo developer). It's not enough for council to require developers to include some affordable housing in their projects. Show us the pay dirt.
8: Remove the parking requirement on basement apartments. One-fifth of Toronto tenants, more than 100,000 people in total, live in basement apartments or second suites. But the city's bylaw requires that a home with a second suite must have at least two parking spaces. Madness. We should be subsidizing homeowners to convert basements into affordable living spaces.
9: License apartment buildings . Our rental housing stock is not only shrinking, but too much of it is also in deplorable shape. Former urban development commissioner Paula Dill recommended an apartment licensing system like Vancouver's and Los Angeles's, to get landlords to maintain their buildings. Regular inspection would help, too. The catch? Provincial regs prohibit such licensing. Time for the province to remove that block.
10: Rebuild the rent registry. The Tories dismantled the old rent registry, a database of rents for buildings. With more than 400 city buildings in need of major repairs, a new registry would help prevent landlords from charging illegal rents and ignoring much-needed repairs.