Sunday, April 16, 2023

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is a problem right across the country. In Toronto, one of the candidates for mayor has suggested a solution. Edward Keenan writes:

When mayoral candidate Josh Matlow unveiled his “Public Build Toronto” proposal Wednesday — part of a larger affordable housing and rental program he’s been releasing in stages — it would be easy to say at best it looks like a good start. A $300-million “seed funding” kick-start to a program to build 15,000 units of rental housing on city land is modest — such a build-out would likely cost billions, whereas Matlow’s proposed seed funding turns out to be the cost of hosting five World Cup Games, give or take.

But it was noteworthy to me because it proposed the city government tackle the housing crisis in part by building new affordable housing on land it already owns. Not give the land to someone to build on. Not sell it to someone to build on. But build on it ourselves, with the city acting as a developer. That’s the kind of proposal we haven’t heard a lot of in recent decades from governments around here.

Sometime around the 1990s, the prevailing wisdom moved away from direct government construction of housing — and direct government construction and operation of virtually anything. Looking at actual evidence of cumbersome or inadequate public infrastructure projects, we all rode the pendulum to the other extreme, enamoured suddenly of the idea that the private sector was the best and only purveyor of such work, and where the public couldn’t privatize a whole area of service entirely, it should hire companies to do the work for it in “public-private partnerships.”

The results are everywhere around Troonto -- huge homes that only a fraction of us can afford -- and no new public housing:

The city’s open data portal offers information on Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) units by the date their construction was completed: you see hundreds and often thousands of units per year constructed from the 1960s through the early 1990s, and then virtually nothing for more than a decade, and then only a handful of units over the past 10 years or so. We used to build lots of public housing as the city grew, and then, while the city continued growing, we just stopped.

This is a crisis of our own making:

As with so many things, much of the blame for this can be placed at doorsteps other than the city’s own — Mike Harris at Queen’s Park and then Brian Mulroney and Jean Chr├ętien in Ottawa pulled the funding and made the regulatory changes that virtually ceased the construction of public housing and co-op housing in Toronto. But virtually cease it did.

And meanwhile, a few decades later, how are those public-private partnerships looking in general? Well, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT may open someday, maybe. If we’re lucky. It’s hard to tell, because no one in the provincial government is saying much about it at all, after years of budget increases and years of delays. This follows a model of provincial project management jobbed out to the private sector that has become the stuff of horror-story legend in the city of Ottawa after that city’s own still-unfolding LRT construction nightmare.

It's clear that neo-liberalism has been an ugly failure -- and that government, when properly supervised -- can do good work.

Image: Point2 Homes


zoombats said...

Maybe it is about time someone started a bit more radical approach to affordable housing. When you think back to the time the government expropriated thousands of acres or prime agricultural land for the proposed future airport only to become the nations biggest landlord while shelving the airport plan could make a large sustainable town. The vast General Motors plant in Oshawa comes to mind as another potential building site. When G.M. took public money and then mothballed the plant only to resurrect building in China, they have forfeited any use of the land. As I said some officials need to get a little more creative in their approach. I do recall in the late eighties when the Massey Ferguson plant was mothballed I think it was the Bob Rae Government at the time turned those grounds into "subsidised" housing. I was building playgrounds in the development and remember seeing a lot of "Beemers" being parked in the new driveways.

Owen Gray said...

There are ways -- lots of ways -- to build affordable homes, zoombats.

Marie Snyder said...

What happened when a private citizen had a great solution, like Khaleel Seivwright, and the city just bulldozes the tiny homes, makes it pretty clear they don't want a solution.

Owen Gray said...

It's all about the money, Marie. There's more profit in bigger homes.

Peter Watson said...

There are definitely some capitalist fingers in the affordable housing pie. Many of our problems could be solved if we eliminate this corrosive influence.
I like your reference to the swinging pendulum as I often use this analogy to describe why inaction will often lead to disruptive action when problems are left to fester. It's this disruptive action that gets the headlines and causes so much pushback from those who feel put out.


Owen Gray said...

When problems are left to fester, Peter, the pushback can get loud and nasty. These days, there's a lot of nastiness in the air.