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Archbishop meets housing minister

By Murray MacAdam

Archbishop Colin Johnson urged Ontario’s minister of housing, Rick Bartolucci, to strengthen the province’s support for affordable housing during a meeting on April 18. He told Mr. Bartolucci that while the church can help people affected by the shortage of affordable housing, only government has the resources needed to make a substantial impact on the issue.

Archbishop Johnson was joined by Angie Hains, the executive director of Ecuhome, a non-profit housing agency, and David Walsh, a Toronto businessman who is active in non-profit housing development.

The meeting came at a time of concern around the government’s response to housing issues. The province’s strategy for long-term, affordable housing, released last November, continued to provide rule changes to help tenants of social housing projects. However, it contained no targets or new funding for building new, affordable housing. Housing was noticeably absent as a priority in the government’s 2011 budget, released in March.

Mr. Bartolucci praised the Anglican Church for its advocacy work, and had read a diocesan report on visits by about 40 Anglicans to 19 non-profit housing buildings in the Diocese of Toronto. He defended the government’s record on housing and expressed confidence that negotiations with the federal government for shared-cost housing programs will lead to ongoing funding.

Ms. Hains raised concerns about funding for Ecuhome, an agency backed by several denominations, including the Anglican Church. Ecuhome provides supportive housing in 500 units in 63 houses and buildings that it owns, as well as providing support for another 100 people. The agency is concerned that it lacks the funding required for ongoing maintenance, pointing to bedbugs as an example. Ecuhome must spend $100,000 annually combating bedbugs at its buildings, funds that must be found out of current operating budgets and are thus not available for other maintenance and repair work.

Another challenge is that Ecuhome will run out of funds for capital repairs within a few years, she said. “If we’re not in operation, there are 600 people that were homeless who will be homeless again,” she told Mr. Bartolucci.

Mr. Walsh has developed several homes in Toronto with a strong track record of providing a supportive environment for recovering alcoholics and former inmates. None have received government funding.  He asked Mr. Bartolucci if funds might be available for demonstration projects, so that he could develop more such projects, but was told that no such funds were available.