Rental subsidy reduction comes at disappointing time for Toronto advocates

Visible homelessness is expected to rise as the weather turns warmer and people vacate shelters for parks. The situation could worsen with a recent funding reduction to a rental subsidy heralded as a means of quickly moving people into private housing.

The Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB) is jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments, giving people access to money to subsidise their rent. Toronto’s Housing Secretariat Abi Bond said it’s used by homeless people, who are often newcomers and refugees and has been a key part of reducing stress on the city’s shelter system.

“It gives people the freedom to travel around Ontario, to follow jobs or family,” said Bond, calling it a great addition to the toolkit used to combat the housing crisis. In 2022, she said the City of Toronto was able to help over 2,000 households using the benefit, but reduced funding to the program this year means the program will be capped at 1,500 households as money is set to run out at the end of the month.

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Abi Bond, the city’s Executive Director of the Housing Secretariat said the reduced funding is disappointing. Matthew Bingley/Global News

This year, Bond said the city received information from the provincial government that the funding would be reduced by about 23 percent. Bond said the program was starting to see a strong uptake in applications for the benefit and called the reduction in funding “disappointing.”

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in an emailed statement the benefit is calculated based on average market rents, so the COHB was reduced to ensure existing households would continue to be supported.

“What it means for us, is that as of the end of May, we will have run out of money for new people,” said Bond “we’ll be taking no new people into this program after the end of May if nothing else changes.” Bond said without an increase in funding, there’s cause for great concern because the program was a really important tool to relieve pressure on the shelter system by moving people quickly into the private rental market.

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Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said her office will be pushing motions next week with the interest in addressing the shortfall. “It’s important that we keep people in their homes,” said McKelvie.

A report being considered by City Council next week will recommend the city asks for an additional $20 million in program funding from both Ottawa and Queen’s Park into the program.

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But outreach worker Diana Chan McNally said if the city’s strategy is to again go to higher levels of government requesting more money, it’s doomed to fail. Both the provincial and federal governments snubbed recent requests from Toronto to address its current budget shortfalls.

Chan McNally said the city should be doing more to look inward at funding solutions. It’s important she said, to not rely so much on other levels of government which haven’t been responsive.

“So it’s more sustainable, it’s local, we can use our own money if we actually put effort into generating our own revenue tools,” said Chan McNally “and bolster our own housing allowance program that is run locally and doesn’t end in six years like the Canada-Ontario Housing benefit.”

Senior city leadership, beginning with former mayor John Tory and continuing under the current Deputy Mayor have been in search of a new revenue generation for the city, calling the current system of funding unsustainable. A report is expected from city staff this summer which is expected to address some of the potential paths, but the more substantial means would still require approval from upper levels of government.


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