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Advocates seek ‘urgent changes’ to solve affordability crisis as Ontario housing summit begins – CBC.ca

After delays due to COVID-19, the Doug Ford government will convene a housing summit on Wednesday with opposition parties and housing advocates calling for decisive measures to help bring down the cost of owning and renting a home in Ontario.

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Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell says housing prices are ‘out of control.’ The Ontario government is hosting a housing summit on Wednesday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

After delays due to COVID-19, the Doug Ford government will convene a housing summit on Wednesday, with opposition parties and housing advocates calling for decisive measures to help bring down the cost of owning and renting a home in Ontario.

The premier, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark and the mayors of Ontario’s 29 largest municipalities will meet to discuss housing affordability in the province.

The summit was originally set to happen in December but was postponed amid rising COVID-19 infections and concern about the Omicron variant.

It comes at a time when the increasing cost of buying a home in Toronto is showing no signs of letting up. According to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, the average selling price in the area hit an all-time high of  $1,095,475 last month. Elsewhere in the province, while prices may be cheaper, buying a home is getting more expensive and more competitive, even in rural areas.

Ahead of the summit, the Ontario NDP is laying out five “urgent changes” it wants on the table at the meeting — specific proposals it believes will lead to more affordable housing right now.

Prices ‘out of control’

“Housing prices have been rising out of control for years,” NDP housing critic Jessica Bell said in a statement. 

“It’s really impacting people’s lives. People are putting off having babies because they can’t afford the extra bedroom. Young people are moving hours away from everything they know and love to find an affordable place,” she continued.

“People have to spend such a huge portion of their income on housing, they’ve got no breathing room in their budgets.”

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Premier Doug Ford convenes a housing summit on Wednesday with Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark and the mayors of Ontario’s 29 largest municipalities. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Among its proposed solutions, the NDP wants the government to make it illegal for landlords to raise the rent when a tenant leaves a unit and another moves in. The New Democrats also want the province to put a vacancy tax on people who don’t pay taxes in Ontario and own homes in the province they do not live in. 

“Solutions are available, and we need Premier Doug Ford to agree to implement them right now,” Bell said.

Renting more unaffordable

Renters are also feeling the pinch.

Douglas Kwan, the director of advocacy and legal services for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says tenants were experiencing an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has “just made things worse”.

According Kwan, nearly half of Ontario tenants are paying what’s considered unaffordable rent, when more than 30 per cent of their income goes towards housing.

In terms of solutions, Kwan says answers can be found in the past, when he says all levels of government were more committed to creating purpose-built rental housing, including co-ops, non-profits, and community housing.

“They’ve been a staple of success from the 60s and 70s, and it’s a model of success that the province should recommit itself towards,” Kwan said in an interview.

Building while protecting the environment

While the Ford government has been focused on increasing the supply of housing by facilitating zoning and building permits, the Ontario Green Party is concerned about the environmental consequences.

In an email to CBC Toronto, Green Leader Mike Schreiner said building more homes will help solve the crisis, but the focus should be on smart growth.

“We can do it in a way that stamps out urban sprawl and protects nature and the places we love. It’s about creating livable and affordable communities that work for everyone,” Shreiner said.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is accusing Ford of not doing anything to help families afford a home, whether to rent or own.

“Over the last four years, home ownership has become out of reach for almost all young families,” Del Duca said in a statement to CBC Toronto.

“Ontario Liberals believe that increasing housing supply, protecting renters, and building affordable housing are key to creating a housing market that works for everyone,” the statement said.