Monday, May 12, 2104
Just this evening I received an inquiry via Twitter that asked “Why are Toronto municipal election candidates so resolutely silent on 169,020 people on housing wait list?” Well, to cut to the chase I am not being silent. And rather than answer on Twitter in 140 characters, I felt this question and issue deserved far more than a short pithy response.
First, though, I think the answer to that question is sadly an easy one: the types of people who are in need of social housing don’t show up on politicians’ radar. They seldom have the money, power or free time to catch a campaigner’s eye, and when they do, it is, as always, for the wrong reasons.
The March 2014 report shows an increase of 798 applicants in one month. These are people who are looking for a stable and safe place to exist, so that they can qualify for the paperwork they need to apply for and hold down jobs, so that they can get their kids into local area schools and so they can feel part of and contribute to the experience of being a Torontonian.
The fact is, there are people in society who currently do well, and will always continue to do well. They have the resources and the contacts to ensure that even when they stumble, there are strong, well-financed hands nearby to help them get back up. But the struggling people don’t have that. They are made invisible by their lack of power and they are also stigmatized by it. A double insult.
And yes, the other municipal candidates seem terribly silent about it. I see nothing on the websites of Ms. Chow or Mr. Tory that speaks about these vulnerable citizens, and how they, the famous mayoral hopefuls, plan to help them.
And our current mayor? Well, he spends a heck of a lot of time hanging around TCHC buildings with his photographer, but provides no tangible proof of actually assisting either those residents or people still on waiting lists. His constant reference to saving “taxpayers’ money” actually seems to me to be a direct slight to anyone in this town who rents their home rather than paying property tax on their own patch of land. In my mind he still sees Toronto as a place to drive to work in the morning and then escape from, back to the suburbs, in the evening.
People who need help finding housing – or assistance of any sort – make many others feel uncomfortable. Whether it is a personal distaste for providing social assistance, or a fear that associating with the marginalized carries some sort of economic contagion, it’s just a “hands-off, look the other way” kind of thing.
I am not like that. I hold the notion of fighting for the marginalized very close to my heart. It’s a huge part of my day job (anybody is welcome to come watch me work and see how deeply entrenched these imbalances are). And I fully intend to apply these skills more broadly. My plan includes methods for ensuring that those who can afford it pay extra to keep this city running and thriving, and although no-one likes the word “taxes,” these are the funds – our funds – that help contribute to our city’s growth and ongoing improvement.
Within the scope of that improvement, I want to see people of all income levels do better. I believe that my attitude – as a political outsider, who had to put himself through school, who works for a living, who has no inheritances or board-of-directorships to make me beholden or for sale, am the only candidate who will not forget about the people who need housing, once the fanfare of Election Season and Election Day dies down.
My plan is up on my website for you to see now, and it will be up for you to check against, once I earn the seat of Mayor. Nobody understands better than I do what accountability really means. Every day I am accountable in my work.
If my response to this housing question is still too vague, or if you feel the points in my plan lack exact detail, that’s because I am not an expert in this area – yet. I readily admit that. But I am also not going to make pie-in-the-sky promises to appease and appeal, just for the sake of photo-op politics. The reality is that housing is a complicated issue. It requires a better, more sound approach to managing the backlog and reducing wait times. It requires that we increase the number of available housing units, and integrate them into neighborhoods across the city.
There are people who know how to do this; there are associations crying out for this, and there is precedent in other cities. All the information we need is available.
A mayor is one of 44 voices – someone who is expected to listen to the other councillors, who themselves are the voices of their constituents.
I have a personal distaste for fallacy and about promising the moon. The reality of the world is that not everything can be done the way a career politician promises. It needs careful oversight, careful planning and democratic commitment. We need to look at previous attempts, previous mistakes and previous victories in the assisted housing arena. We are looking for a successful project here, not personal glory. There are lives at stake.
But I can, and I will, find out what I need to learn, by listening first to the citizens of this city, and secondly councillors, and next, advisors who will also have to earn their place and will also not be blinded by fat civil contracts or guarantees. All to connect Toronto, for all of us, not just those who (in many ways like me), have been luckier than others.
Therefore, am I silent on the people who these housing numbers represent? No I am not. These applicants deserve our attention, and they deserve our expert help. Only then will they be in a place where they can pay back – as they will and as they want to – because they, just like you and I, belong here. And nobody can truly belong and connect until they, like you and I, have a stable and safe roof over their head.