Last week, VCIB’s CEO Jay-Ann Gilfoy participated in A Roadmap to Housing Our Essential Workers, a webcast and panel discussion that addressed the challenge of creating affordable workforce housing in the Greater Toronto Area. This discussion covered themes from the Housing a Generation of Workers report series, which was released in collaboration by the webinar hosts, WoodGreen and the Toronto Region Board of Trade. The report series was designed to identify solutions that provide housing for essential workers, and encourage key partners to act on this urgent issue. To read the key three themes that emerged from this discussion, scroll down below.
This webcast was moderated by Craig Ruttan, Policy Director of Energy, Environment & Land Use at the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Gilfoy was joined in the panel by Mwarigha, Vice President of Housing & Homelessness Services at WoodGreen, and Patricia Roset-Zuppa, Vice President of Policy at CMHC.
Recognition of socio-economic impacts of the affordable housing crisis
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the need for affordable housing in the GTA has become even more apparent. As noted in the report series, 90,000 essential workers in Toronto currently earn between $40,000 to $60,000 annually. This is too little to afford housing in the city, yet too much to apply for social housing.
As Toronto’s housing gets more expensive, larger groups of people are moving away from the city and taking their talents elsewhere; “The exodus is happening and it’s going to take a lot to attract people to stay in a big city” said Gilfoy, who noted that we’re seeing a change in priorities as a result of the pandemic. Gilfoy continues; “The idea of living somewhere where you’re close to work is going to be more important to people coming out of this pandemic, the days of wanting to commute two hours to get to a job are behind us.”
Housing is deeply connected to how people work, live in, and experience the Greater Toronto Area. As Michelle German, VP of Policy and Strategy at WoodGreen Community Services explained, the unaffordable housing crisis perpetuates income inequality, impacts educational outcomes for students, and reduces caregiver support for the aging population.
In the report series, data suggests that the affordability crisis costs the GTA economy an average of $5.88B to $7.98B per year. This is driven by downward pressure on wages, regional out-migration, productivity loss from long commutes, employee turnover, and recruitment costs.
The need for partnerships across public, private, and non-profit sectors
The persistence of the affordable housing crisis presents an opportunity to build intentional partnerships. As Mwarigha of WoodGreen explained; “The partnerships that are being created are not just policy and regulatory obligations, these are creative partnerships with developers who want to work together in new ways to accomplish the goal of creating affordable housing units.” Mwarigha also expressed that partnerships are essential to ensure that affordable housing projects are inclusive. The right partners must be involved to address systemic issues of racism and the wealth gap that the minority communities face.
Additionally, Patricia Roset-Zuppa of CMHC believes that partnerships between public and private sectors are necessary to encourage both political and public will. Roset-Zuppa explained that nimbyism (the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ mentality) is a critical issue that needs to be addressed; “We must consider how to overcome nimbyism by communicating potential socio-economic impacts; affordable housing is necessary to build inclusive communities where you can take your children to the library or go have coffee [at a local coffee shop]. In order to have that, we must build housing that is affordable for anyone who works at these places and serves that community.”
Expanding on this topic, Mwaringha hopes to see more innovation in partnerships moving forward. This could be achieved by eliminating processes that can often slow things down; “The traditional method of putting out single RFPs is slow and cumbersome. We need a new process that takes advantage of the strategic partnership value that we’re starting to see. That is the way for us to move forward.” Gilfoy offered a similar standpoint, expressing the importance of breaking down barriers like reducing the processes and paperwork that many organizations need to go through to start their projects. To be successful, partnerships need the ability to move quickly.
The need for speed – expediting our progress
The City of Toronto has committed to creating 40,000 affordable homes in the region, but so far VCIB has only had the opportunity to finance 1,500. Gilfoy elaborated; “The gap between what we need and what we’re doing is massive, and while the action that’s being taken is amazing – we need to do more.” Currently, Toronto is more unaffordable than New York City and Los Angeles. As Gilfoy stressed, the need to address the affordable housing crisis has only been growing from year to year.
Gilfoy believes financial institutions have a greater role to play in expediting the progress, instead of lumping affordable housing projects into a high-risk category when they come forward; “There needs to be a mental shift to understand that these are very low risk deals. The traditional way of thinking is that affordable housing projects are run by nonprofits and therefore they are associated with having a higher risk and more regulatory concerns. But the data shows that these are low risk financing deals; there’s commitment, partnership, strong boards, community involvement, and above all, when people who really need a home finally get a place to live, they take it very seriously.” Securing financing for projects is one of the most critical components impacting the timeline of affordable housing development.
If you’re seeking funding for an affordable housing project, learn more about VCIB’s offerings here, or directly to discuss opportunities.