Remarks by: Gary McNamara, AMO President and Mayor, Town of Tecumseh Tuesday, November 24th, 2015, Toronto, Ontario. 2015 OMSSA Housing and Homelessness Prevention Forum

Remarks by:
Gary McNamara, AMO President and
Mayor, Town of Tecumseh
Tuesday, November 24th, 2015, 9:15 – 9:30 a.m. (15 minutes)
Chelsea Hotel, Churchill Ballroom
33 Gerrard Street West
Toronto, Ontario

2015 OMSSA Housing and Homelessness Prevention Forum

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today.

As AMO President, I have the opportunity to connect with municipal leaders and staff from all corners of the province, on a broad range of policy matters.

It’s truly a privilege, because it helps drive home the diversity of our communities and the range of programs and services that touch people’s lives every day.

You take care of our most vulnerable residents. And what we do to help make their lives better is one of the best measures of our society.

I’m also particularly interested in housing. Back home, I sit as a member of the Essex County Housing Advisory Committee, where I hear first-hand about the challenges and opportunities of delivering this vital service.

As a Mayor, people tell me what they need – or what someone else needs. People take my hand and look me in the eye. I don’t need to tell you that some of their stories are hard to hear. On behalf of all Ontario’s Mayors – we appreciate what you do.

Today, I wonder how many of you felt chilled and eager to get inside to the warmth of a heated building.

Imagine, if all you had was a tent as your refuge. How do you comfort infants and children and equip them to become giving, caring adults when you are living in a tent settlement, let alone huddled along a railway?

As you know, 25,000 Syrian refugees are expected to resettle in Canada by the end of this year. We expect an announcement today outlining the federal plan.

AMO and its members stand ready to assist in whatever way we can. I know that we can count on you, your community groups and others in your communities.

Municipalities have already been asked to help source out temporary housing sites. I know that many of you in this room will be involved in the effort and I thank you in advance.

AMO, for its part, will provide a leadership role and work with OMSSA and other staff associations on planning for a successful resettlement of the refugees.

AMO’s board acknowledges the crucial role that housing plays in our communities.

Like you, we know that affordable housing can help address poverty, promote social inclusion, and improve the overall health and well-being of the population.

And like you, we see the difference your work makes in the lives of people in your community.

That is why AMO works so closely with OMSSA to push for a stronger and more sustainable housing system in Ontario.

Our joint task is to champion programs and investments that will create strong, prosperous, and healthy communities.

When we present practical recommendations that both improve policy and make the most of limited tax dollars, we make it difficult for other orders of government to ignore our message – and the people of Ontario benefit.

For years, we have called on the Federal Government for a national housing strategy. And now, we have a new Federal Government that ran on a platform of supporting social investment.

What does that mean for us? We don’t know yet.

The new federal government’s mandate letters to ministers promise action on the housing front. Whether this comes in the form of a national strategy will be revealed in the months to come. We’re the only G8 country that doesn’t have one.

To date, they have promised to invest in social infrastructure, including affordable housing. They have also indicated their commitment to renewed federal leadership on the housing file, including the construction of new, affordable housing.

In addition, their platform touched on opportunities to re-purpose surplus federal lands for affordable housing projects in some communities.

While these commitments are not as robust as they could be, they are a good solid start.

What we need is permanent funding for housing and a firm national commitment to invest in social housing beyond existing and expiring operating agreements.

AMO will work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Province to engage the federal government in their plans.

Social housing sustainability is top of mind for AMO. Ontario’s municipalities are facing cost pressures from all sides, including housing. We also know that existing municipal revenues will not be enough to close these gaps.

As we look to the Federal Government with a renewed sense of hope, we are actively working with the Ontario Government – our most engaged partner.

AMO and OMSSA have worked together with the Province to secure greater flexibility for a number of programs, including the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative.

Together, we can continue to make the case for provincial funding and program design that supports flexibility, innovation, collaboration, and outcome-based results – real results, for real people.

More and more, I hear about the need for affordable housing, particularly for our growing seniors’ population and for Ontario’s most vulnerable residents.

Housing is something that’s beyond the scope of any one order of government to address on its own. However, one thing is clear – front-line municipal experience should inform and drive our decision-making.

The Ontario government has worked closely with municipalities and DSSABs to address homelessness and affordable housing. This makes sense. Ontario’s CMSMs and DSSABs are more than just stakeholders – we are the principle managers, planners, and funders of the housing system in Ontario.

We are the heavy lifters.

Municipal governments are the largest contributors to funding for housing and homelessness services. As the primary funders, we should be the principle policy makers.

Recent provincial developments and the federal election give me hope.

Provincially, I am heartened by the fact that our Minister shares our strong passion for the housing file, and a desire to get things done.

Last month, the Province committed to ending chronic homelessness within ten years. AMO wants to work with them to help achieve this ambitious goal.

Homelessness is a complex challenge with overlapping responsibilities – from income support and employment programs, to affordable housing, and more.

Creating more affordable housing across Ontario must be part of the solution.

I remain cautiously optimistic about the Province’s renewed Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy.

Renewing this strategy provides an opportunity to step up our collective efforts to provide safe, secure, suitable, and adequate affordable housing options for Ontarians.

This must include a range of options, from social and rental housing to home ownership. We know this is vital, because affordable housing contributes to better economic, social, and health outcomes for Ontario’s communities and the Province as a whole.

In its first strategy, the Province focused on transforming the delivery of housing and homelessness services to achieve better outcomes for Ontarians.

Building on this, the second strategy should focus on long-term housing sustainability and expanding the housing system.

I don’t need to tell anyone in this room that Ontario is at a critical juncture.

The rising cost of housing is taking a toll on families and communities across Ontario. It’s pushing personal debt and housing wait lists to record levels.

In Ontario, we already have 168,000 people on wait lists for social housing – and that number is climbing. At the same time, our social housing stocks are in dire need of capital repairs.

Home ownership is fading beyond the reach of young couples and families. Rising housing prices are pushing more people into a crowded rental market.
More and more, renters are spending upwards of one-third of their income on housing.

Given all this, addressing housing needs over the long term is critical. AMO continues to believe that it’s not sustainable to fund housing solutions on the property tax base alone.

To put it simply, it’s bad public policy, and it’s bad fiscal policy.

We can’t address the problems facing Ontario’s housing system without commitments from both the federal and provincial governments to develop long-term, cost-effective solutions.

At AMO’s conference in August, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing was asked how he would help address the mounting costs of social housing, including the capital repair backlog. In response, Minister McMeekin promised a very detailed affordable housing strategy, and indicated that he would be asking for support and resources from his Cabinet colleagues.

This is welcome news and we support his efforts. It will be challenging. The Province is not just looking under rocks for cost savings, it is looking under pebbles as well.

Unless we see hard housing targets and resources as part of the new strategy, our ability to end homelessness and expand housing options for low-income Ontarians will be hamstrung.

As you’re well aware, more resources are needed – not just to expand the housing system, but simply to sustain it. The Housing Services Corporation estimated Ontario’s social housing capital repair backlog in the neighbourhood of $1.5 billion dollars. This is not chump change.

We understand that the government is in fiscal restraint, but we can’t afford to stifle innovative thinking. We also know that targeted, strategic investment in housing and homelessness prevention will lead to savings in other areas.

We need to expand the tools we have to plan, finance, and facilitate more affordable housing.

AMO is advocating on this front, making the case for municipal governments to have the authority to enact inclusionary zoning. As with any good policy, there must be built-in flexibility on how this is implemented locally.

Ontario’s municipalities have a long history of working productively with the Province. But our two orders of government can’t address Ontario’s housing needs alone.

So again, all eyes are on Ottawa and our new Prime Minister.

It’s time for all three orders of government to step up to the plate. To make a real investment in our housing system, we need to work together at all levels.

We know that a failure to invest today will lead to troubling costs tomorrow.

Ontario’s communities need a stable and secure housing market that creates jobs, attracts new workers, and meets the needs of seniors and young families.

We also need to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens don’t get left behind.

Off-reserve Aboriginal homelessness is a prime example. This must be addressed, sooner rather than later.

Together, we need to continue our efforts to integrate support services across the full range of housing options.

I’m proud of the way AMO and OMSSA have worked together so closely to provide sound and practical policy advice to the Province.

We have, in effect, doubled the outfit, working together to develop robust capacity on the policy front. Let’s keep that going.

I want to thank OMSSA’s Board and staff for their leadership and hard work, particularly Petra Wolfbeiss and OMSSA’s President, Keith Palmer.

I also want to thank all of you, personally, for the work that you do back home. Your front-line leadership is valued and appreciated.

We have accomplished a lot with OMSSA over the years, and we look forward to continued partnership to improve and expand housing in Ontario.

We also look forward to collaborating with the Province to meet the needs of Ontarians.

I understand that you’ll hear from Janet Hope next, who oversees the Ministry’s housing file. Janet has been a great partner. I want to acknowledge her leadership in working with AMO and Ontario’s municipalities.

I am sure you will find great value in what she has to say.

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your time at the forum.