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Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy: An Overview

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Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy is a plan that puts people, and the communities that serve them, first.

During consultations to develop the strategy, we heard how the housing system is too complicated and that strict rules discourage those in need of housing and create barriers to opportunity. The long-term strategy builds on the significant investments of the last several years to build and repair thousands of homes, provide rent support and prevent evictions. The strategy gives municipalities who deliver the services on the front line more flexibility to use existing resources to meet diverse housing needs locally. It also takes steps to ensure that non-profit and co-op housing providers are treated fairly.

New legislation, the Housing Services Act, 2011, is now in effect. This new legislation replaces the Social Housing Reform Act, 2000, which was overly complex and prescriptive and created too many administrative burdens. The new legislation supports better decision-making at the local level, particularly through the requirement for local housing and homelessness plans. There will be new accountability requirements, to measure and publicly report on local and province-wide progress, and to ensure that housing resources are used in the best way possible and are delivering results for people. Most provisions of the new legislation took effect on January 1, 2012.

Components of the Strategy:

Consolidating housing and homeless programs

There are currently more than 20 provincial housing and homeless programs that operate independently, have their own funding rules and which can be difficult for people to access. The long-term strategy will consolidate or harmonize this patchwork of programs to allow municipalities to use funding in a more flexible manner to better meet people’s individual housing needs.

Simplifying rent-geared-to-income calculations

Simplifying the current rent-geared-to-income (RGI) calculation process, such as reducing or eliminating the more than 60 criteria now used to calculate income, will aim to reduce the administrative burden for tenants, housing providers and Service Managers, and increase fairness and equity in calculating RGI assistance across the province. The province is working with municipalities, tenants and housing organizations to thoroughly analyze potential changes to the RGI calculation process, before putting new rules into place.

Local housing and homeless plans

Municipal Service Managers, in consultation with community partners, are now required to develop comprehensive, multi-year plans to address local housing and homelessness needs, to be in place by January 1, 2014. Service Managers will be required to report annually to the public on the progress of these plans.

More accountability, better reporting

Today, there are multiple reporting requirements for housing programs with different reporting cycles and frequencies. The long-term strategy will streamline reporting requirements so that it is more efficient and less of an administrative burden for municipalities and housing providers.

Under the strategy’s accountability framework, the province will report annually on province-wide progress on housing and homelessness using a series of performance indicators. The province will also work with Service Managers to develop local housing metrics which would provide consistent reporting and track how outcomes are improving. Service Managers will develop additional housing metrics that reflect local needs and priorities.

Asset creation

The Province will work with the newly renamed Housing Services Corporation (formerly the Social Housing Services Corporation) and select Service Managers to pilot an asset building program, aimed at creating greater self-sufficiency for tenants living in social housing by enabling them to save money for specified purposes without reducing their RGI assistance. This could potentially remove disincentives to seeking employment and education opportunities, and improve economic outcomes for low-income households.

Tenant selection system (improving waiting lists)

The Province will work with our municipal partners and housing stakeholders to improve the performance of the current waiting list system for social housing. This will mean encouraging best practices among Service Managers in using the current flexibility of the waiting list system, and enabling greater tenant mobility across Service Manager area boundaries.

Helping victims of domestic violence

The Province’s Special Priority Policy which gives victims of domestic violence priority placement on social housing waiting lists, remains in place. This helps victims of domestic violence escape unsafe and abusive situations. Ontario will work with municipalities to identify ways to improve the implementation of this policy and encourage more local housing options to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence.

Protecting non-profit and co-op housing

Non-profit and co-op housing providers have an important role in Ontario’s housing system and continue to demonstrate improved capacity to deliver effective housing services for tenants. To support this sector when it faces challenges related to governance, management and capacity, the strategy gives Service Managers more options to work with non-profit and co-op housing providers with the goal being to maintain or restore community-based governance. The new legislation also requires housing providers to develop Board and staff renewal plans to address management and capacity challenges.

Fair process for housing providers

In situations where housing providers may be facing operational problems, the new legislation provides a fair process between Service Managers and housing providers to help develop collaborative solutions. New rules support improved communication between Service Managers and housing providers, enable housing providers to develop their own solutions, and ensure that housing providers have a fair opportunity to provide input before a Service Manager makes a decision about using a remedy.

Review process for Service Manager decisions

Service Managers are required to establish a local review process. This provides tenants with an option to have a more independent and local review of decisions they feel are unfair or unreasonable on matters such as eligibility, rent determination and type of accommodation. This kind of appeal process was already in place in a few municipalities and is now required across the province.

Requiring municipalities to allow second units

Municipalities can consider a range of land use planning and financial tools to help promote a full range of housing options - including affordable housing - to meet the full range of housing needs in a community. The Municipal Tools for Affordable Housing handbook illustrates the range of planning and financial tools now available to municipalities. To further expand affordable housing opportunities, amendments to the Planning Act that took effect on January 1, 2012 will require municipalities to establish policies allowing second units in new and existing developments. Second units are private, self-contained residential units with kitchen and bathroom facilities within dwellings, or within accessory structures to dwellings such as above laneway garages.

Second units provide an important source of affordable housing for low and moderate-income households and are offered at some of the most affordable rental rates. They offer a range of other benefits including providing homeowners an opportunity to earn additional income to help meet the costs of homeownership, and/or providing housing for elderly parents or live-in caregivers.

Garden suites

Amendments to the Planning Act now allow municipalities to pass zoning by-laws that authorize the temporary use of garden suites (often referred to as granny flats) for up to 20 years (from the previous 10 years), with the potential for three-year extensions. Garden suites are one-unit detached residential structures containing bathroom and kitchen facilities that are ancillary to existing residential structures and designed to be portable. This extended timeframe can provide more up front certainty for a homeowner to make the investment and arrangements necessary to install a garden suite thereby promoting another affordable housing option, particularly to support aging family members.

Affordable housing a key provincial interest

Amendments to the Planning Act now identify affordable housing as a “matter of provincial interest”. This sends a strong signal to local decision-makers that affordable housing is a key government priority, for which they must have regard when making decisions on land use planning.

Fewer requirements for Ministerial Consents

Former legislation required Service Managers to seek “ministerial consent”, a specific type of approval for a range of activities including financing, Board of Director matters and other changes to their social housing properties. As they have developed the experience and capacity to make these decisions, the new legislation removes the requirement for “ministerial consent” for many changes to housing projects and gives Service Managers the flexibility to make more decisions on their own. The only exceptions are a continued requirement for ministerial consent to the proposed sale of social housing projects, which is consistent with the province’s stewardship role for the housing system, and a continued requirement for ministerial consent to opt out of bulk purchasing of utilities and insurance.

Housing Services Corporation

Under the new legislation, the renamed Housing Services Corporation, formerly the Social Housing Services Corporation, continues to be an independent non-profit organization that offers cost-effective goods and services to its members. Under the long-term strategy, the Housing Services Corporation will have an expanded mandate to provide access to its services, as appropriate, to affordable and supportive housing providers and tenants. It is now also able to offer additional optional services such as energy efficiency initiatives, tenant property insurance and tenant financial literacy.

Long-term federal commitment required

The future of housing depends on sustained and adequate funding, which is why a long-term commitment is needed from the federal government. This includes maintaining or restoring lost federal operating funds for social housing.

Current federal funding is either short-term or declining. This can limit some housing providers’ ability to fully participate in initiatives that provide affordable housing. Ontario will partner with municipalities to engage the provinces, territories and the federal government to create a housing framework for Canada that includes long-term, flexible funding for affordable housing.

Easier services at the Landlord and Tenant Board

Under the new legislation, the LTB now has the option of allowing staff to resolve straight forward and uncontested cases, which would allow adjudicative resources to be devoted to more complex matters.

In addition, the LTB’s Notice of Hearing procedures will be streamlined. Once proclaimed, amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 will make the LTB – rather than tenants and landlords - responsible for serving these notices to all affected parties.