Poverty activists call for wider access to housing fund

Nov. 29, 2016

City staff brought recommendations on Tuesday that would affect the eligibility requirements for Toronto’s Housing Stabilization Fund during the Community Development and Recreation Committee, but poverty activists say the changes are still not enough.

City staff from Toronto Employment & Social Services (TESS) had four recommendations

  • Eliminate the requirement for a separate income test to establish eligibility for the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF)
  • Change the HSF criteria for the replacement of furniture as a result of bed bug infestations to include soft furniture in addition to beds
  • Implement flat rates for the issuances of essential furniture and moving costs related to HSF
  • Transfer the 2016 year-end surplus of $3.8 million from the to the Housing Stabilization Reserve

Chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee James Pasternak said, “This will put more money into housing allowance, which allows those in need to move from apartment to apartment, to find the equilibrium between their income and the cost of the apartment. So putting this money into that fund is a major advantage for those in need.”

Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) came to city hall to advocate for wider eligibility criteria. One speaker, A.J. Withers, a fourth year PhD student at York University in social work and member of OCAP, said the policy needs to account for more types of situations. “Fleeing an abusive neighbour, or a racist neighbour who’s harassing you, doesn’t fit under the current criteria. Moving into a more accessible home, so maybe that means being able to cook because you’re in a rooming house and you can’t, maybe it means having a private bathroom, wheelchair access, mental health services, all those things don’t count – you don’t qualify if you’re moving for those reasons.”

Councillor Joe Mihevc brought two motions. The first requested that TESS report to council to “clarify current criteria and expanding eligibility criteria for clients accessing the Housing Stabilization Fund.” City staff person Anna Fiorino, manager of strategic issues, policy and research at TESS, wrote to Signal Toronto that TESS will be bringing a supplementary report for the December meeting that will “clarify the current HSF criteria, the proposed changes identified in the report, our approach for implementing those changes as well as the implementation time frames.”

Mihevc’s second motion supported the one time contribution of $3.8 million transferred from the HSF to the reserve fund. City staff said the purpose of the request to council is to reinvest the unspent money so it does not need to be returned to the province, and that the funds will be used as a one-time portable housing allowance.