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Ontario’s budget won’t fix the affordable housing crisis, critics say. Here’s why | CBC News

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Ontario’s latest budget commits the government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on housing-enabling infrastructure, but several housing critics say the limited focus won’t solve the affordable housing crisis.

There are 136 references to “housing” in the more than 200-page budget document, released Tuesday, but only a handful commit the government to spending any new money on tackling the issue, and few commitments address affordable housing directly.

“It’s a misdiagnosis of what the priorities should be,” said Mwarigha, the vice-president of housing at Woodgreen Community Services, a charity working to find housing solutions for the most vulnerable. 

Mwarigha says municipal infrastructure like water, stormwater and sewage system components are needed, but providing infrastructure and hoping the market will solve the housing crisis isn’t going to work.

To catch up on its lagging goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031, Ontario needs to build at least 125,000 homes this year, ramping up to at least 175,000 per year. The budget projects that the province will see close to 88,000 new homes in 2024.

The government focused most of its housing spending on infrastructure investments to enable municipalities to build more homes. That includes $1 billion in its new municipal housing infrastructure program and $825 million for the housing‐enabling water systems fund in the budget. But housing advocates and opposition parties say it must invest much more in supportive and affordable housing, along with policies that enable all kinds of housing to exist everywhere.

Mwarigha, the vice-president of housing for Woodgreen Community Services, says the Ontario government has misdiagnosed the housing problem by focusing housing funding almost exclusively on infrastructure. (Submitted by Mwarigha)

Eric Lombardi, president of the housing advocacy group More Neighbours Toronto, says young people need to see more of a commitment to address the housing crisis.

“It feels like our generation is just irrelevant and Doug Ford and his government have sold us out,” he said.

Lombardi said he would have liked to see solutions that could ramp up all kinds of housing, including land use reforms that would make it possible for fourplexes — buildings split into four separate units — in more neighbourhoods province-wide. He also wanted to see bigger investments to tackle the housing needs for those experiencing homelessness. 

He says he doesn’t think housing is a real priority for the government.

“This problem is hard. It’s causing a lot of damage to our society,” he said. “The budget just demonstrates that they’re not interested in tackling it.”

Funding inadequate, say opposition parties

The budget committed an additional $152 million over the next three years to “support individuals facing unstable housing conditions and dealing with mental health and addictions challenges.”

The money will be used to maintain 1,137 supportive housing units with expiring operating agreements.

Finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy stands in the legislature on budget day, at Queen’s Park, on March 26, 2024.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy stands in the legislature on budget day, at Queen’s Park, on March 26, 2024. Bethlenfalvy defended his housing budget’s approach in questions from reporters Tuesday, saying as interest rates change, housing starts of all kinds should bounce back up. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It will also invest $9 million into supportive housing and mental health and addictions wraparound support for 32 new clients and increase service for 75 residents in the Guelph-Wellington area.

The population of Ontario is more than 15 million people.

The Official Opposition says the budget commitments made are inadequate, with thousands in need of affordable housing.

“This is a glaring hole in this budget,” said NDP Leader Marit Stiles. “Where is the truly affordable housing? Where is the non-market housing?”

Ontario Liberal Party Leader Bonnie Crombie said: “This is another catastrophic failure of a government who says they’re in the housing business. They failed Ontarians once again.”

Crombie says unless the government makes specific affordable housing commitments, they don’t have the interests of young people and families in mind.

housing
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy defended his housing budget’s approach in questions from reporters Tuesday, saying as interest rates change, housing starts of all kinds should bounce back up. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader, Mike Schreiner said this housing budget is a “failure.”

“We know that the housing crisis is the number one issue for Ontario and it’s driving the affordability crisis,” he said.

Modular housing of interest, but no money specified

The budget document says the province is investing in “innovative modular construction” and says the province will have an attainable housing program, indicating it is consulting. No financial commitment is yet specified.

Lombardi says the time for action and investment is now. He’s worried the government doesn’t want to make the land-use reforms happen that would truly enable modular construction.

Mwarigha says the government needs to come to the non-profit sector with money and land. 

Bethlenfalvy defended his housing budget’s approach in questions from reporters Tuesday, saying as interest rates change, housing starts of all kinds should bounce back up.

“What we won’t waver on is our commitment to find more ways to get more houses built — condos to senior living and supportive housing, different types of housing,” he said.

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