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Archbishop urges government to support low-income tenants

Archbishop Colin Johnson speaks at a rally in Toronto on National Housing Day. ‘My faith does not allow me the luxury of apathy,’ he told about 200 people. Photo by Michael Hudson

By Murray MacAdam

Archbishop Colin Johnson urged the federal government to support low-income tenants at a rally in Toronto on Nov. 22 to mark National Housing Day. The rally was attended by 200 people, including a strong Anglican contingent.

Events were held across Canada. Speakers urged the government to maintain subsidies that benefit tenants in social housing. They also called for a national housing strategy.

“The affordable housing crisis is not an abstract term,” said Archbishop Johnson. “It’s about real human beings—people who deserve a decent, safe, secure place to live for themselves and their families, as we all do.

“Yet we’re here because thousands of people around us wake up each day, not in a decent home, but in a rundown apartment or a hostel bed with strangers sleeping only a metre or so away. Or else their home is a bench or heating grate.” Referring to the day’s cold, rainy weather, he said, “We can go home and get warm, but others can’t.”

Federal contributions to social housing are dropping across Canada. For example, Toronto received about $161 million from Ottawa in 2012 for social housing subsidies. Unless these subsidy programs are renewed, that figure will decline by $33 million by 2017 and reach zero by 2031. Up to a million people across Canada could be forced out of their homes by rent increases if the federal government fails to restore the funding, said Yutaka Dirks of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.

The faces of the homeless and poorly housed are well known to Anglicans because of the churches’ work with Out of the Cold programs, foodbanks, meal programs and other services, said Archbishop Johnson. “We need charitable programs that help keep people alive, but we also need to get at the root causes of the housing crisis,” he said. “That’s why we as Anglicans have joined with community partners to advocate for the kind of public programs needed, because only government has the resources needed to alleviate the housing crisis in a significant way.”

He added: “My faith does not allow me the luxury of apathy.” He said the Anglican Church’s Marks of Mission call on Anglicans to respond to human need and work to transform unjust structures of society.

Harvey Cooper from the Co-op Housing Federation said Ontario Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey and others are urging the federal government to work with them on a national housing plan. “All we’re hearing from the federal government is silence,” he said.

Other speakers underscored the urgency of the situation. Pat Moore said it’s common for six people to share a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s low-income Thorncliffe community, or for 10 people to jam into a two-bedroom unit. Housing activist Emily Paradis highlighted a new report saying that nine out of 10 families living in Toronto high-rise buildings live in substandard housing and are at risk of homelessness. Half of these families spend more than half of their income on rent.

In addition to calling for the renewal of $1.7 billion in annual subsidies, advocates want the federal government to increase funding for new affordable housing and homelessness programs.

For more information, see Social Justice and Advocacy in the Diocese of Toronto.