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Author: Leigh Bursey, Brockville City Councillor    Original Post Date: October 4, 2019

“Resilience” is a buzzword often used by government entities to suggest the ability of non-market housing providers to rely more on own-source revenue, but in the current policy environment in Ontario it is hollow. Under the current system, rent-geared-to-income housing providers without charitable status can’t raise funds. I want to invest in the buildings our tenants live in and expand our capacity to serve more people; in short, I want to be part of a resilient community housing sector. Right now that is effectively impossible. If the organization runs a surplus, it is clawed back by the provincial government through the service agreement. Want to build a reserve fund to plan for the long term? Sorry, we’ll take that from you. Want to refinance your existing property to develop new units? Nope, no dice.

Where is the incentive to innovate? Why would I ask my staff to invest valuable time in developing community partnerships to use our common space if rental fees will get sucked right out of the organization? Saving money for the taxpayer is not the only consideration for housing providers to find creative solutions.

We are in a scenario where the mandate of the organization does not reflect its reality. This creates a stagnant environment that allows the private sector to come in and say, “we have a solution”. Yet despite being the largest recipient of “affordable” housing dollars in the country, many private sector units built with government support are remarkably unaffordable.

So where do we go from here? We need to move away from rental supplement agreements that depend on landlords, which are subject to the same discrimination that exists throughout the market. We need to move toward affordable housing benefits provided directly to tenants, which can be used with private or non-profit housing providers. And we desperately need a modernized framework that allows non-profit housing providers to raise money. We need legislation that allows them to keep the revenue they generate, build up reserve funds and tap equity to expand their operations. That’s what the path to resilience looks like.

This post was written ahead of the Hamilton Café Pracadémique on Community Housing Sustainability in the context of business transformation and workforce development (originally posted October 4, 2019).