Non-profits – a built in solution to the affordable housing crisis

It’s December, a festive season for many. But as temperatures plummet across the province, the life and death realities faced by homeless and under-housed Ontarians become even harsher. And our failure to adequately support them, stark.

It is simply unacceptable that some have no option but the street, that far too many are paying unsustainable rents, amid the skyrocketing cost of living and that the devastating impact of housing instability continues to rob individuals, families and communities across this province of so much potential.

We can and must do better. Fortunately, there are reasons to hope.

In November, the Government of Ontario hosted its first annual housing forum, bringing together 75 organizations and partners to inform the next Housing Supply Action Plan, due in early 2024. Representatives of the community housing sector – non-profit and co-operative housing providers – participated, bringing a critical part of the solution to securing the housing we require most urgently: affordable and deeply affordable housing that meets the needs of seniors, students, low-income residents and other marginalized populations.

At the forum, roundtable discussions undertaken by municipal representatives, private developers and non-profit leaders focused on four topics key to the affordable housing ecosystem: building housing-enabled infrastructure; identifying barriers to missing middle housing; ensuring housing for all Ontarians; and leveraging innovations in housing, like modular builds.

The community housing sector is uniquely positioned to add real value when it comes to ensuring housing that meets the continuum of needs, and not just because of their bottom-line mission to house all Ontarians. They’re also designed to meet this challenge – and know what policies and practices will effectively support them in delivering housing for low-to moderate-income Ontarians.

This fall, United Ways across Ontario, in collaboration with non-profit sector partners – Canadian Centre for Housing Rights, Ontario Alliance to End Homelessness, Ontario for All and Ontario Nonprofit Network – facilitated province-wide sector engagement to shape an action plan. Through 20 local consultations and participation of 400 non-profit housing leaders, we landed on seven strategic recommendations to grow and preserve affordable and deeply affordable housing.

The seven recommendations featured in the resulting Bringing affordable housing home: An action plan were echoed and reinforced throughout forum discussions. Approaches that actualize the full capacity of the community housing sector commanded interest, practical measures like capital investment through grants and loans to enable delivery of new housing and a non-profit acquisition fund to preserve the affordable rental we have but are in danger of losing.

This is the blueprint for reducing homelessness, developing affordable and deeply affordable residential units for low- to moderate-income households and supporting those in greatest need with the programs and services that will enable them to remain housed and live in dignity.

And it’s that outcome that needs to be our shared objective, that must animate our plans moving forward and light every step along the way.

We are all onside.

Government has signaled support for non-profit and cooperative housing providers. At the forum, the sector was recognized for its tremendous work in supporting communities across Ontario, as well as the crucial role it plays in meeting the government’s goals.

And the community housing sector has pledged its commitment to finding solutions to today’s housing crisis. With Bringing affordable housing home and participation in the forum, the sector has put up their hands to do more, to work with government and private partners to make housing available for those who need it most, faster.

List of signatories:

That shared determination and drive and abundance of expertise is the perfect foundation to build on. But it’s what comes next that really matters. Now is the time to pull together, act and invest in the measures we know will deliver the housing options we need. We haven’t a moment to lose. Ontarians are depending on us. Let’s bring affordable housing home now.