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Raise shelter allowance

Toronto Star - October 27, 2000

Before he was first elected, Mike Harris promised to "end the public housing boondoggle."

What ended was provincial support for public housing. He quickly axed 385 public housing projects. The rest he's now dumped on local governments.

He also promised a new "shelter subsidy program for all Ontarians who need help in affording a decent level of shelter."

What he did was cut the existing one built into welfare payments by 21.6 per cent. He followed this in 1998 with his so-called Tenant Protection Act.

Instead of judges deciding eviction cases, Harris put a tribunal in charge. Built into that legislation was a huge incentive for landlords to evict tenants. With old tenants gone, rents can soar.

Since then, landlords have made 125,000 applications to evict tenants. The Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal has issued 74,000 orders - nearly 100 a day - - putting tenants on the street.

But where are they to go?

The few rental housing units being built - about 2,000 for the whole province last year - are too pricey for most people. So people are being forced into shelters, motels, doubling up - and the street.

It gets worse. Harris now proposes to make it still easier to evict tenants and raise rents. Under new legislation, evictions will be approved by clerks, bypassing even the tribunal. The legislation also puts the squeeze on needy people who share apartments and houses. It removes the tenants' rights of room mates and house mates. And people subletting apartments won't be bound by rent limits, creating yet another rent-raising loophole.

The effect can only be to manufacture more homelessness, not more affordable homes.

On the other side - a thin straw admittedly - Finance Minister Ernie Eves isn't ruling out the possibility of restoring some of the housing allowance cuts he made in 1995.

With government revenues running $3 billion or more than he projected, he can certainly afford it. He should go further, however.

Eves - whose mantra is "promises made, promises kept" - should finally redeem Harris' 1995 promise of a "shelter subsidy program," but one that will create homes, not homelessness.

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