Ontario Premier Doug Ford (middle) and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow (right) were foes during elections. Now they’re acting chummy in public.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford (middle) and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow (right) were foes during elections. Now they’re acting chummy in public.

The Non-market Housing Push

When Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow announced earlier this year $100 million for the Scarborough co-op development, it made news as one of the most significant investments of its kind in many years.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford soon after announced the province was “rewarding” the city with another $114 million from its Building Faster Fund. Ford, who had previously said Chow would be an “unmitigated disaster” for Toronto if elected mayor, was now congratulating her and the city for meeting and exceeding housing targets set for the city by Queen’s Park for 2023.

But what does it all mean? How far can $214 million go to fixing the housing crisis?

By itself, not very far, says Courtney Lockhart, associate director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF). Units aren’t expected to be built until 2035, so they won’t have an immediate impact on the average cost of rent in the city.

But Lockhart sees it as progress if it’s part of a larger strategy that focuses not only on building new supply but protecting our current stock via community housing and land acquisition investments.

“The bottom line is that we’re in this crisis because our housing needs and affordability needs in our communities are not matching the new supply or existing programs or social services,” Lockhart tells The Grind. “A goal for the community housing sector is to double the amount of non-market housing in Canada.” This would put Canada on par with similar nations, she says.

This requires continuing to invest in programs like the MultiUnit Residential Acquisition (MURA). That program was once championed by former councillor and mayoral candidate Ana Bailão, who narrowly lost to Chow last year. The MURA program started at $20 million per year in 2022, and received a $100-million investment over a three-year period in this year’s budget, which works out to $33 million per year.

The “program is one of the biggest municipal land acquisition programs in Ontario,” says Amina Dibe, senior manager of government relations with the CHF. “But also one of the few.”

The program allows non-profits and land trusts to partner to preserve existing affordable units, which are commonly lost through demolitions, demovictions (an eviction for a demolition and redevelopment), conversions to condos, or increased rents at turnover. This “really leaves fewer and fewer affordable housing options,” explains Lockhart, adding that between 2016 and 2021, Canada lost 370,000 homes like this.

By contrast, only about 91,000 co-op units were built nationwide between roughly 1973 and 1993.

“We know the most affordable homes are the ones that we already have,” says Lockhart. “So we need to do both: protect the existing affordable housing stock, and build more.”

Ahead of April’s federal budget, the CHF has also been building partnerships with various market, community and government stakeholders to push for a national acquisition program.

Once built by 2035, the Scarborough co-op project at 2444 Eglinton Ave. E. is expected to provide over 900 homes, including 612 rent-geared-to-income affordable ones. This will be a significant addition to the roughly 17,000 co-op units completed in Canada in the last two decades.

It’s a start. But according to a 2018 CMHC report, “Canada’s coop housing sector is estimated to represent approximately 0.7 per cent of the country’s total housing stock,” and most were built between 1973 and 1993, after which time successive Liberal and Conservative governments began slashing funds.

“It’s important for governments of different orders to be aligned,” Lockhart stresses. “No government is off the hook until we end homelessness and housing need.”

WHAT IS CO-OP HOUSING? Housing co-operatives (or co-ops) provide at-cost housing for their members, and the housing is controlled by the members, not by an outside landlord. They tend to be a cheaper option than housing owned by private or corporate landlords. Members are neither homeowners nor tenants, but they enjoy the benefits of both. They democratically decide how decisions are made about maintenance, capital repairs and monthly charges.

This article appeared in the 2024 May/June issue.