TORONTO — Toronto is looking into providing one year’s worth of free rent in permanent housing to those living on the streets in an effort to alleviate the city’s housing crisis.
On Nov. 9, Toronto City Council adopted a motion put forth by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam that will see a report developed on the feasibility of the idea.
According to Wong-Tam, the costs of running shelter systems are much higher than the costs of providing permanent housing to the city’s homeless population.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto on Monday, Wong-Tam said that “the cost of emergency shelter beds is about $40,000 to $42,000 per person, per year.”
“The cost for [permanent] housing is about half of that,” she added. “Every single night that we pay for someone to stay in a ‘shelter hotel,’ we could have actually diverted that money and put it into actual housing.”
Wong-Tam says the city needs to take the money currently spent on “unsustainable and coercive situations” and repurpose the dollars, putting them into permanent housing — something she says is a “healthier, more long-lasting and sustainable” option.
“So, my proposition to city council was, ‘Let’s go get the accurate numbers of what it would cost for us to house everybody for one year and then let’s work towards a plan where we can eradicate homelessness once and for all,’” she said.
The motion passed unanimously, with the exception of Councillor Michael Ford, who was absent on the day.
While Wong-Tam called the unanimous adoption “encouraging,” she doesn’t think it could have happened at an earlier point in time.
“To be quite honest, if I had put something forward like this back in 2017, I’m pretty confident that the rest of city council would have voted against it and we would be no further ahead,” she said.
But now, she says the housing crisis is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
“There are people who are homeless in every neighbourhood across the city, so it’s no longer confined to a downtown issue,” she said. “The suburban councillors dominate city council and they now know it’s their problem as much as it is a downtown problem.”
Ultimately, Wong-Tam is hoping the motion will help the city while educating its residents that there are tangible solutions to the housing crisis.
“I want people to understand that it is doable— that we can end homelessness by diverting costs that we’re already spending into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, at some point and reinvesting into housing.”
The City of Toronto’s Manager of Shelter, Support and Housing will present the findings of this report to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee in January 2022, according to Wong-Tam.
Once the report has been presented, and if it is found to be a feasible strategy, Wong-Tam is recommending that it be put forth to the provincial and federal governments in the hopes that they will foot the bill.
“We want them to come back and take some responsibility,” she said.
Ruth Jenkins, a resident at the Novotel hotel shelter, located at 45 The Esplanade, told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday, that “although she is not overly educated on [Wong-Tam’s] proposal,” she is thrilled to hear of any movement to provide people with permanent housing.
Jenkins says she is grateful for a spot at the Novotel, but that “it’s scary at the shelter.”
“I don’t always feel safe in my room,” she said.
She has been searching for permanent housing, but Toronto’s sky-high rental prices pose a massive barrier to securing it.
“What I want is to get out of that bloody shelter, as grateful as I am.”
AN OVER-STRETCHED RENTAL MARKET
Street pastor at Sanctuary Toronto and housing advocate Doug Johnson Hatlem told CTV News Toronto that he agrees with Wong-Tam on the assertation that it is significantly cheaper to house people permanently than it is to put them up in shelters.
“Housing is the answer to homelessness, not wrap-around supports,” he said.
That being said, Hatlem is concerned that unleashing thousands of people onto an already over-stretched rental market could encourage landlords to simply raise rents.
“If there are three or four thousand people coming onto the market — people that don’t have good credit — they’ll just raise the rents even more, which will make it harder for people,” he said.
Instead, Hatlem underlines the need for more housing to be built within the city.
“We have to have more housing stock and that has to be built,” he said. “And until we really have the will to build or expropriate tons more units and make them dignified and workable for people’s needs, then we’re going to continue to … keep this issue in the public eye.”
Jenkins, however, feels the motion is a step in the right direction.
“We [don’t] need to shoot the bird before he even gets off the ground,” she said. “If there’s someone who has an idea, just let them brainstorm, let it hang in the air a bit.”
“At least there’s movement and that’s a silver lining.”