The numbers are in. According to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s (ONPHA) latest report, the province needs 68 per cent more social housing units. This is the increase that would be required to house all of the Ontario households currently waiting for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units. This is a 4.2 per cent increase over last year.
ONPHA’s 10th annual waiting list report yet again provides an important window into the reality of housing in Ontario, by illuminating the number of households waiting for RGI housing as well as their average wait times. These numbers are only one measure of need and are an indicator of Ontario’s growing affordable housing crisis.
As in past years, the latest report reveals the 2013 data and suggests a gloomy reality:
- 165,069 families, seniors, and individuals were on local waiting lists for RGI housing (also referred to in the report as “active households”). That means that 3.17 per cent of all households in the province were waiting for an affordable and secure home;
- The waiting list total rose by 4.2 per cent in 2013, the largest in year-over-year increase since 2010;
- The largest single group of households waiting for affordable housing is in the GTA with approximately 110,000 households on waiting lists.
- The greatest concentration of households on waiting lists remains the City of Toronto with 60,197 households. This represents 43 per cent of all of the active households, in the province even though Toronto represents only 20.6 per cent of the population of Ontario.
- The Region of Peel also remains high with 14,436 households, or 10 per cent, of the provincial total.
According to the ONPHA report, the most direct way to reduce the size of waiting lists is to build more affordable housing. Another strategy is to offer more rent supplements or housing allowances to residents in need (e.g. people living with mental illness or addictions).
Additionally, using a Housing First model to reduce homelessness has proven to be successful. Introduced by Pathways to Housing in New York City in the 1990s, Housing First is an approach where housing is provided as the first step, in combination with supportive services, to people who are homeless and living with mental health issues. Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy now mandates that service providers reflect a commitment to housing first principles.
The key conclusion of the ONPHA report is the need for increased investment in housing. Sustained funding for affordable housing will not just reduce waiting list totals, it will also generate benefits to our economy, our workforce, our healthcare system, and our students’ success. Both the federal and provincial governments need to address this need safe and affordable housing. The recent federal and provincial commitments to contribute $801 million to the Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario Program (IAH) is encouraging and will make a significant difference in the lives of many Ontarians. In its first three years, the IAH program assisted more than 17,000 households. While IAH funding for new housing will not increase the amount of RGI housing in Ontario, it will help create more affordable rental opportunities, which in turn may ease the pressure on RGI waiting lists.