Affordable housing requires attention by municipalities

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Dear New Mayor or Councillor:

First and foremost: congratulations on your election victory.  You have been entrusted by your neighbours to represent your community — well done.

As the start of your term on December 1 rapidly approaches, no doubt your time and thoughts are consumed with setting your priorities.  The issues you decide to tackle first, and how you tackle them, will set the tone for the next four years.

Let me suggest an issue that you probably heard a lot about at the doorstep: housing.

This will be an issue that requires your full attention, right away.

Housing affordability is an issue found across Ontario, impacting cities and towns far and wide.  Polling consistently suggests most Canadians see the issue as a bigger problem than any other facing the country – including climate change, gun violence, and drug addiction.

All municipal leaders need to do more to ensure housing is affordable and that people have housing options.  Specifically, we need to create more affordable rental options to ensure adequate housing for all members of our communities.

Our population is ageing across the country.  Seniors need to be able to downsize into something that they can manage but also afford, and that more often than not means a rental housing option.  Meanwhile, Millennials are starting families and yet remain priced out of the housing market.  Renting is their only option.

But we can’t just wait for the private sector to take action.  Municipalities need to build social housing and begin working with the private sector to develop available land.  And we have to get started now.

And beyond just increasing the stock of rental housing, governments at all levels need to do a better job educating tenants about their rights.  Ontario actually has relatively robust legislation to protect tenants, especially in terms of regulating evictions and rent control.

However, far too often, tenants are uninformed or ill-informed of these rights.  Frankly, sometimes landlords are too.  Many people can relate to a story of a tenant not being sure but believing they’re entitled to, say, a month’s rent back in compensation for an eviction, but they aren’t aware where that’s written down or who to speak to in order to find out.

Ontarians in all municipalities need clear, easy-to-digest information to inform and support tenants.

In order to address Ontario’s desperate need for more rental housing, one small, practical and affordable step for municipal leaders would be to ensure tenants know how to protect themselves, how they can advocate for themselves and where they can turn for help.  We need governments to work together to educate the growing number of renters on what’s available to them: what’s legal, and what’s more likely to hurt than help.

This action could come in the form of information campaigns or workshops, and even simple training for staff at Town Hall so they can refer a tenant to the Landlord Tenant Board.  Working together, we need to not only build more rental housing, but ensure tenants are better informed of their rights.

And so, newly elected municipal councillors, please start to think not only about how you can build more social housing in your municipality, but also how you can incentivize more for-profit rental housing and, especially, how you can work to ensure renters are better informed of their rights.

More from Jonathan Scott   @J_Scott_

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