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Affordable Housing Isn't Even on the Ontario Election Radar - Why?

06/03/2014 05:31 EDT | Updated 08/03/2014 05:59 EDT
Spencer Platt via Getty Images
ISLIP, NY - FEBRUARY 09: A foreclosed home stands boarded up on February 9, 2012 in Islip, New York. A New York State Department of Financial Services Foreclosure Relief Unit van visited Islip to provide individuals who are facing foreclosure with counselors who can assess where homeowners are in the pre-foreclosure or foreclosure process. The mobile unit, which is eequipped with computers and communications, looks to slow the number of foreclosures in the state and to provide information about loan modifications available to homeowners under federal law. Islip, which is located in Suffolk County, has the highest foreclosure rate in New York State. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Over the past four weeks, pundits, parties and candidates in the Ontario race have talked everything from jobs to transit to past scandals and old grievances. There's one issue, though, that they've been silent on: affordable housing.

Across Ontario, people young and old are struggling to keep a roof overhead for themselves and their families. More than 158,000 households are waiting months or, more often, years for an affordable place to call "home." Affordable housing is key to getting Ontario's fiscal and social house in order.

Affordable housing is nowhere to be found in the Progressive Conservatives' Million Jobs Plan, despite the fact that housing is vital for creating jobs. The Million Jobs Plan makes no commitments to affordability or rental and homeowner assistance, even though construction of much-needed affordable housing stock alone would generate over 39,000 new jobs in Ontario, and a secure and affordable home is key to enhancing residents' skills and employability.

Strangely, the NDP platform is also silent on affordable housing, despite Andrea Horwath's commitment to making life more affordable for low- and middle-income Ontarians. Housing costs are the single largest expense in most families' budgets, and more than one in five Ontario households are spending more than half their pre-tax income on rent. Investing in affordable housing would have a much larger impact on families than cutting the GST on hydro bills or reducing auto insurance.

Only Kathleen Wynne's Liberals mention affordable housing in their platform by partnering with the Feds to renew the Investment in Affordable Housing program. They also commit to a modest expansion of the Community Homeless Prevention Initiative. These commitments are something, but they're far short of what is needed to tackle the $2.6 billion in outstanding repairs in existing social housing. They also fail to account for the additional 178,000 households that will find themselves stuck in homes that are overcrowded, unaffordable, or in poor condition over the next decade.

The last long-form census told us that the average monthly income for renter households in Ontario was $2,792. The same year, the average monthly market rent for a three-bedroom apartment was $1,153 -- more than 40 per cent of the average household's income. Faced with an increasing affordability gap, families have turned to food banks and other stop-gap measures in order to secure a roof over their children's heads.

By ignoring housing, all three major parties have abandoned the primary need of the most vulnerable residents in our communities. Instead, Wynne, Hudak and Horwath have focused on jobs, gridlock and rebuilding Ontario's economy without recognizing that affordable housing is a key part of the solution to each of those problems.

Affordable housing increases economic competitiveness and helps deliver jobs. Companies move to communities where they can find employees and where their employees can afford to live. Government investments in building and repairing affordable housing stock also creates short-term construction jobs and long-term jobs for skilled tradespeople and professionals in jurisdictions across the province.

Affordable housing also reduces gridlock. Congestion costs between $6 and $11 billion annually in the GTA-Hamilton region alone. Ontarians live where they can afford, which, with rising housing costs, is increasingly in car-dependent suburbs. Affordable housing cuts commutes and reduces the number of vehicles on the road by making it possible for families to live close to their place of work. Living closer to work also improves employee morale and reduces absenteeism, making Ontario businesses more productive.

Most importantly, an affordable home is the launch pad to a brighter future for tens of thousands of families. Past provincial and federal governments knew this and saw affordable housing as an investment in the next generation of Ontarians. Today's governments have lost their long-term vision, meaning the future viability of affordable housing is threatened. The immense backlog of repairs is a direct consequence of provincial and federal governments abdicating their responsibilities for housing, as are the over 158,000 households waiting for an affordable home in communities across Ontario.

When families have access to affordable housing, children's performance in school improves, adults have increased opportunities to expand their training and skills and health care costs go down. Affordable housing boosts economic activity and reduces traffic congestion, creating new opportunities and helping us move more quickly.

The next Premier of Ontario cannot fix the province's problems without directly addressing affordable housing. By failing to place affordable housing front and centre in their campaign platform, all three major parties have ignored both the needs of Ontario families and the future of our province.

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