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Tory seeks provincial, federal funding for Toronto social housing repairs

Toronto Mayor John Tory is making another appeal to the province and Ottawa for funding – this time to address the backlog in repairs to the city’s social-housing stock, arguing there’s a “moral and business case” to do so.

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor John Tory is making another appeal to the province and Ottawa for funding – this time to address the backlog in repairs to the city's social-housing stock, arguing there's a "moral and business case" to do so.

As Toronto Community Housing struggles to cope with a $914-million backlog, the agency released a study Monday that says addressing those repairs could have an $18-billion impact on the city's economy. The mayor announced the findings of the TCHC study Monday, and urged Queen's Park and the federal government to help pay for some of the needed improvements.

"On the moral side, some of our most disadvantaged Torontonians live in TCHC housing," Mr. Tory said. "Then we come to the business case. Let's start with the fact that we own these housing units. We own them collectively. Given that that's true, why would we let these housing units, quite literally, fall apart?"

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In late 2013, Toronto city council passed a $2.6-billion, 10-year capital repair plan for TCHC. But the proposal relies on the province and Ottawa to each contribute a third of that money, which the senior levels of government have yet to commit to doing.

"The idea that some $2.6-billion in repairs should be worn by property taxpayers alone is not realistic, nor is it sensible," Mr. Tory said. "It's wrong any way you look at it."

The study commissioned by TCHC was conducted by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis and says a $7.5-billion investment in TCHC over the next 30 years could result in a $18.5-billion increase in GDP for the city – in part by creating jobs for 220,000 people, mostly in the construction sector.

The study – which cost TCHC $185,000 – also detailed a list of social benefits to repairing aging buildings, including reducing the number of visits to doctors and hospitals by 2.1 million, and a 15-per-cent reduction in neighbourhood crime.

If investments aren't made, the study says, 7,500 TCHC homes will be boarded up in the next eight years.

Ted McMeekin, the provincial minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, responded by pointing to $1-billion in affordable-housing funding that the province has provided to Toronto, and placing the blame on Ottawa. "The fact is the federal government's funding for existing social housing continues to decline each year," he said in a statement.

But when asked about Toronto housing during Question Period in Ottawa Monday, Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen placed responsibility back with the province. "We've made strong investments so that provinces can allocate the funding where they believe that housing is needed and in the way that it's needed," she said.

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This is just the latest instance of Mr. Tory making pleas to the provincial and federal government for funding, so far with limited success.

Early this year, Mr. Tory unveiled a 2015 budget plan that relied on Queen's Park to fill an $86-million gap. That gap was created by the province's cancellation of a $129-million fund last year – a fund initially created to compensate for the downloading of social services like public housing in the late 1990s. When the province declined to restore funding and only offer a market-rate loan, the city opted instead to borrow funds from its own capital reserves.

But the mayor said Monday that he remained optimistic. "I didn't come to the mayor's office with the expectation that within four months I'd be awash in funds sent my way," he said.

"I view the discussions I've had with the other governments so far – on transit, on housing – as the beginning chapters of what will be a process that I hope will lead to substantial increased participation from them."

In recent years, the housing provider has been subject of several controversies, including a scathing 2011 auditor-general report on spending practices, and an ombudsman's report last year on human-resources practices that led to the resignation of CEO Eugene Jones.

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