Major employers can be part of solving Toronto’s housing crisis, report says

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Major employers can be part of solving Toronto’s housing crisis, report says

By Tess Kalinowski Real Estate Reporter Fri., Jan. 24, 2020

Full Article can be seen here:

Can Toronto avoid the kind of housing crisis that afflicts Silicon Valley?

The tech hub around San Francisco has a reputation for offering some of the highest wages in the world. But as its real estate prices have soared, so have homeless rates, which rose 17 per cent between 2017 and 2019. Even people in middle-class occupations, such as teachers, are leaving in droves as the price of housing outpaces income there.

It’s a cautionary tale for Toronto, which has 9,200 homeless people every night, says a report being released Friday by the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) and WoodGreen, one of the city’s largest social services and housing providers.

The business group and community agency want to kickstart a conversation about the potential for Toronto’s major employers to play a role in providing housing for the workers who keep the city humming.

They say the problem is too big to be solved by government alone.

“Warning signs are in the air,” says the report called, Housing a Generation of Workers, Defining the Problem.

The city’s median income is $71,631. But the housing shortage is so severe, even those with significantly higher incomes are challenged to find appropriate, affordable housing, it says.

Housing prices here have expanded four times faster than incomes, pricing out many workers, including those just below the median, earning between $40,000 and $65,000, people in vital occupations such as new nursing and teaching grads, custodians, shelter and hotel workers, artists and restaurant cooks.

“If we don’t address this, we’re going to have a city of very rich people and a city of very vulnerable people and nobody in the middle. That’s not really the society we want to be building,” said WoodGreen vice-president of policy and strategy Michelle German.

The report says that, “Workforce housing has the potential to be either a band-aid on a problem or part of a transformational solution.”

It notes that there’s the risk of an unfavourable power dynamic if employer housing limits workers’ ability to accept another job because it might put their housing in jeopardy.

But the benefits could help workers build equity and save for their own homes.

German said WoodGreen, which has about 40,000 clients and between 700 and 800 employees, has partnered with programs such as Options for Homes, an affordable home ownership social enterprise. It wants to assist employees, such as personal support workers, locate closer to the places they work so that they aren’t burdened by long commutes.

“Tim Hortons, the banks, even bigger social agencies like the YMCA … those are the kinds of employers who may not have seen themselves in the housing conversation and we’re saying, ‘Let’s draw them in!’ ” she said.

Board of Trade CEO Jan De Silva said that involving major employers “is a huge salvo for the affordability crisis.”

She suggested that Toronto’s post-secondary institutions could be well-positioned to consider worker and student housing.

The report is the first of three planned for this year “to activate additional (housing) solutions,” said De Silva.

“It is looking at what other high cost jurisdictions have done to tackle this and how do we transfer this to Toronto,” she said.

De Silva said her niece, a teacher in northern Quebec, receives an apartment as part of her compensation, a perq. that helps the small, remote municipality attract teachers.

“It is what is required sometimes for people to consider those jobs,” she said.

The report is based on interviews with 22 experts from Ontario, British Columbia, California, New York and the United Kingdom. It cites municipalities and employers already using housing as a way to attract and retain workers. Among the examples it outlines are:

  • The University of British Columbia built 685 apartments that rent for 25 per cent below market rates to faculty and staff. There are 2,000 people on the waiting list for those units. UBC also offers market rents for students and employees and is piloting a rent-geared-to-income program for lower-income staff.
  • Struggling to attract employees, the San Mateo Community College District in Silicon Valley built two rental projects and is developing a third, where staff are eligible to live in the apartments for up to seven years. The district also offers home-ownership assistance with low-interest loans. An arms-length non-profit manages the housing as a way of circumventing concerns about the power dynamic of employer-built and -operated housing.
  • The Jefferson Union High School District found that a third of its high school teachers were considering leaving the area when rents nearly doubled between 2010 and 2018. Teachers, who earned about $55,000 to start, could make double at a tech company. The school board is expected to begin building 120 apartments beginning next month. But teachers’ unions have objected, saying that the money would be better spent on salaries.

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