Housing funding welcome news, but renewed action on poverty required in Ontario

The threat of increased homelessness in Ontario is being eased thanks to a one-time $42 million infusion of provincial funding to municipalities. While welcome news as an interim measure, sustainable solutions to address poverty will require a renewed provincial strategy backed by longer-term investments, said the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction.

“One-time funding to bolster local housing and homelessness initiatives is certainly welcome news,” said Greg deGroot-Maggetti, Co-Chair of the 25 in 5 Network. “But if we are going to seriously address community needs, the government must think beyond today and make a longer-term commitment to meeting anti-poverty targets. We need renewed resolve in Ontario to reducing and eliminating poverty, including action on social assistance reform.”

The government’s December 27 announcement came on the heels of six months of concerted advocacy by individuals, community groups, organizations and municipalities urging the provincial government to reconsider its Budget 2012 decision to eliminate the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) from social assistance. The CSUMB provided funding to people receiving Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program to pay for housing-related costs, such as first and last month’s rent or high utility bills, which allowed them to become or remain housed.

The recently announced provincial funding does not reinstate the CSUMB program, which ended January 1, and does not replace all the funding lost through the program’s elimination. However, it will give additional support to municipalities to provide housing and homelessness services to low income Ontarians, including people receiving social assistance.

“With this recent announcement, the government has shown that it can listen,” said Mike Creek, Co-Chair of the Network. “What is needed now is a redoubling of efforts to ensure that no one in Ontario has to live with the pain of poverty or the threat of homelessness. Ontarians need and deserve the security of an effective safety net for people who are unemployed, together with more good jobs with living wages as well as equitable programs that build and maintain healthy communities.”

With an eye to the next provincial budget, the 25 in 5 Network is calling for a number of investments that can help the Ontario meet its goal of reducing child poverty by 25% by the end of 2013, including:

  • Increasing the Ontario Child Benefit to $1,310 for low income Ontario families in July 2013, as originally promised by the government;
  • Moving on social assistance reform, including a $100 monthly rate increase, raising asset limits and reducing clawbacks on earned income, and appointing a reform commissioner and community-based advisory committees; and,
  • Ensuring that work pays by increasing the minimum wage and investing in employment standards enforcement.

The Network is also calling on government to begin the consultations necessary to create Ontario’s next five-year poverty reduction strategy, as required by law, and to ensure that the next strategy sets targets to reduce poverty among all Ontarians, not only children.