Toronto Mayor John Tory and his counterparts from other major Canadian cities made their case on Friday for the federal government to start handing over billions of dollars to repair crumbling public housing, but they received only reassurances and no new money in return.
At a housing summit in Toronto's revitalized Regent Park neighbourhood, Mr. Tory, the mayors of Edmonton and Vancouver and other municipal leaders met with Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal government's Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. They demanded that $12.6-billion of the $20-billion that Ottawa plans to spend on "social infrastructure" over the next decade be carved out just for housing.
Toronto alone is asking for $864-million from both the federal and Ontario governments to repair thousands of its public housing units and warns that without the cash, growing numbers of units will be left unrepaired and uninhabitable. In a speech on Friday, Mr. Duclos trumpeted $154-million in money already flowing to the city from the federal government and Ontario for various affordable-housing initiatives, including $76-million for repairs to Toronto Community Housing Corp. buildings in 2016-2017.
Speaking to reporters, both Mr. Duclos and Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan were adamant that their government was back in the business of funding affordable housing. But they said a comprehensive national housing strategy must be completed before any longer-term money could flow, to ensure it is spent in "an orderly and sequential" manner.
"There's been a decade of underinvestment and lack of partnership with cities," said Mr. Vaughan, a former Toronto city councillor, referring to the previous Conservative government. "We have changed that fundamentally by putting the new money on the table in 2016. It's a down payment for the national housing strategy."
Mr. Duclos used the summit to announce that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. was launching a $200-million affordable-housing innovation fund – pledged in the 2016 budget – that would provide low-cost loans to builders of affordable housing that use "innovative or unique models of design or financing." He said the program aims to help create 4,000 affordable units across the country over five years.
Politicians at the housing summit also discussed the problem of skyrocketing house prices that are making the country's largest cities unaffordable for even middle-class Canadians. All eyes have been on B.C., where the provincial government has brought in a 15-per-cent tax on foreign purchases of residential properties in Metro Vancouver – meant to curb the flow of capital from overseas, particularly China, into the city's red-hot real estate market.
The Ontario government was non-committal on Friday when asked whether it agrees with a call from Mr. Tory to start collecting data on just how many foreigners are snapping up single-family detached homes in the province, in order to measure the effect of overseas money on Toronto's real-estate market.
Mr. Tory said on Thursday that he planned to ask Queen's Park to start tracking foreign home purchases, as is already done in British Columbia. A spokesperson for Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the minister supports collecting more data on the housing market, but would not firmly commit to Mr. Tory's idea.
Toronto's mayor said it was hard to tell whether a B.C.-style tax should be established in Ontario without statistics on detached homes. CMHC does track foreign condo ownership, he pointed out, and those numbers show that in Toronto in 2015 3.8 per cent of condos were foreign owned, compared with 5.4 per cent in Vancouver.
The Toronto Real Estate Board, which opposes a B.C.-style foreign-buyer tax in the city, said Friday it is surveying its members in an attempt to count the number of purchases by foreign buyers for a report later in the fall.
With a report from Adrian Morrow