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Ontario needs a long-term affordable housing strategy

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People who have experienced homelessness or inadequate housing are the experts in what is needed in a housing strategy, according to a new report from the Housing Network of Ontario (HNO).

Those living in poverty should, said the HNO, “be consulted on an inclusive basis throughout the development of the long-term affordable housing strategy, and be involved in the evaluation of its implementation.”

“It is not sufficient to just continue existing programs, it is clear that the system that exists does not fairly, equitably or adequately address housing needs in Ontario," added the HNO, a network of anti-poverty activists, homelessness and social housing advocates, equity and human rights groups, non-profit organizations and tenants with lived experience of poverty.

“There must be sustained, on-going investment in affordable housing programs. There is no quick-fix, but urgent action is needed.”

The new report says:

 -         According to the 2006 Census, 1 in every 5 Ontario tenants spends more than 50% of their income on rent.

 -         Across Ontario 627,000 households are in core housing need, living in housing that is unaffordable, substandard, over-crowded or all three.

 -         In 2009 there are over 129,000 households on the waiting list for social housing where rent is geared to income. Wait times can be as long as 20 years.

Acording to the HNO, housing insecurity, homelessness and poverty are “inseparably linked” making Ontario’s housing crisis “both a housing problem and an income problem.”

“Housing helps people participate in the economy, and solutions to poverty and economic problems will help provide people with the means to access housing,” said the HNO.

Across the province, the report said, participants in consultations and meetings identified the top areas for policy action and inclusion.

Their recommendations include:

- Introduce a universal housing benefit provided monthly to all low-income Ontarians, whether they are on social assistance or not, to address the gap between tenant incomes and housing costs.

- The Ontario government must invest in a permanent program with annual funding to develop new rent-geared-to-income, affordable and supportive homes across Ontario.

- The provincial government needs to invest in supportive housing programs.

- Change the rent-geared-to-income subsidy from 30% of gross income to 20 or 25% of gross income, or at a subsidy sufficient to allow enough left over for living expenses.

- Widen the priority list for social housing to include individuals from equity seeking communities, such as Aboriginal and racialized peoples, people with disabilities, mental health consumers and others.

- The Province should fully upload the cost of social housing from municipalities.

- Clear targets should be set, with benchmarks and timelines so that outcomes can be reliably and adequately assessed.

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