Ontario election platforms fail to address roots of housing crisis

Doug Ford – P.C, Andrea Horwath – NDP, Steve Del Duca – Liberal and Mike Schreiner – Greens

The Ontario NDP has updated its housing platform for the upcoming provincial election.

The party’s most significant addition to its housing platform is a promise to build 250,000 new “affordable and non-market rental homes.”

Of these, at least 150,000 will charge below-market rents and 100,000 will be “deeply-affordable” homes. The updated platform maintains the NDP’s commitment to building 60,000 new supportive housing units for those living with mental health and addictions challenges.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said that her party is “looking at bring back rent controls.” She also promised to crack down on landlords who are forcing people out of their homes because of an uncontrolled rental market.


But according to housing activists, it’s the financialization of housing which drives up prices and the need to raise social assistance rates to a level that enables people to actually afford rent.

According to various government definitions, “affordable” housing is not truly affordable for those on low incomes. For example, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) defines “affordable” rent as costing no more than one-third of a region’s median household income, a figure that works out to more than $2,000 per month in some places.

On May 9, the Ontario Liberals released their election platform which also elaborated some of their housing promises.

The Liberals have promised to create an agency to build new housing, called the Ontario Home Building Corporation (OHBC). However, the plan for the agency was announced separately, and is not mentioned in their main platform.

The OHBC will operate as a financier to build 1.5 million new residences – the same target set by the NDP. The Liberals promise that only first-time homebuyers will be allowed to purchase properties sold by the OHBC.

According to the most recently available data from Statistics Canada, there are approximately 1.3 million vacant properties across Canada. A March report by real estate data analyst Point2 found that the number of vacant properties dropped slightly in 2021, but remained high.

But neither the Liberals nor the NDP are going hard enough after owners who are sitting on vacant properties.

Both parties propose new “use it or lose it” fees for developers and speculators who sit on vacant properties or lands. The NDP calls it a “use-it-or-lose” tax, the Liberals call it a “use it or lose it” levy, and neither is punitive enough to force any significant change.

The similarities in the two party platforms aren’t a coincidence. Even the governing Progressive Conservatives have set themselves the target of 1.5 million new homes to be built within the next decade.

That figure was a recommendation made by Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force (OHATF), which was chaired by Jake Lawrence, an executive with Scotiabank. The PCs say they will follow the recommendations from the task force.

OHATF’s report made 55 recommendations that ranged from reducing municipal regulations to promoting skilled trades to ensure that there are enough qualified workers to build new units.

Lawrence said the interventions they heard clustered around a handful of core themes: these themes appear in all of the main parties’ housing platforms and promises.

But dealing with issues like supply are only one side of the ledger when it comes to housing. Because housing has been commodified rather than used as simply places to live.

This problem isn’t adequately addressed by any party’s policy, and each of the three parties who have been in government in the past two decades have either frozen or cut social assistance rates, exacerbating access to housing.

Everybody knows that any housing platform must have income at its core. The Liberals and NDP are both promising to raise ODSP rates by 20 per cent, and the PCs are offering a much lower five per cent raise.

While any amount will help people, even 20 per cent is not enough to address housing affordability.

If you’re on welfare and you become homeless, the chances of being housed again are very slim because you can’t afford to rent something.

Which planet are our political leaders living on?