While reading this blog post, please keep in mind that Toronto Public Schools are facing an eerily similar challenge to that being faced by Toronto Community Housing. There is a $3-billion repair backlog plaguing TDSB schools that must be addressed immediately. However, the provincial government – the sole funder of public schools in Ontario – refuses to take accountability for this massive issue. As you read the remainder of this blog post, keep in mind that the combined repairs needed in TDSB schools and in Toronto Community Housing units exceeds $10-billion. We are on a scary trajectory if these billions of dollars of repairs aren’t addressed – and soon.
On March 30, John Tory and Toronto Community Housing revealed a plan to address the $1.7-billion of additional funding required to address the $7.5-billion of repairs required in Toronto’s Community Housing units over the next 30 years. This plan’s success hinges on the federal and provincial governments funding a large part of these repairs. In his column in the Star, Edward Keenan suggests this is unlikely. He estimates that for the City to take on the additional $1.7-billion required for repairs would require a dedicated property tax increase of 3% for the next 30 years.
Keenan agrees with John Tory’s argument that “the moral and business cases illustrated by this study make a bullet-proof case for why the Ontario and federal governments should invest now to repair housing.” However, Keenan points out that while the moral and business cases for supporting social housing have been clear for a long time, higher levels of government have continued to download responsibility and accountability for this important public good.
Keenan suggests that if Torontonians do not take on the responsibility to fund these repairs and the higher levels of government also refuse, then Toronto Community Housing units will crumble around the existing tenants, many units will be closed as they become uninhabitable and those tenants will be forced into a private housing market where they might become homeless.
Toronto Public Schools are in the same predicament. Schools are starting to crumble around students and teachers. Will we close schools as they become uninhabitable and force parents to send their children to private schools? Ideally, the province and feds need to step up and start funding public schools as an integral part of our public infrastructure. The province, in particular, which holds all the power over funding at the moment, must start working with the TDSB and the City to figure out funding solutions to ensure that students attend school in safe, well-maintained buildings. While heartening to see the City so engaged in these issues, it is equally disheartening to see Kathleen Wynne’s government so disengaged in real discussions on funding.