New toolkit follows housing fund cuts

Residents of affordable housing units, such as those at 100 Lower Ossington, relied on the provincial housing benefit before it was cut.

Residents of affordable housing units, such as those at 100 Lower Ossington, relied on the provincial housing benefit before it was cut.

Recent changes to provincial funding for housing and homelessness has led one policy group to develop a tracking tool to monitor their effects.

The Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based research and policy institute, in partnership with the Income Security Advocacy Centre, released on Jan. 21 a research tool looking into the loss of Ontario’s Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit.

Before the province discontinued CSUMB on Jan. 1, it provided funding to individuals or families receiving social assistance that found themselves in financial emergencies related to unexpected housing expenses.

Funds equal to 50 per cent of CSUMB’s total funding were given to municipal governments with the directive of establishing similar initiatives. With the provincial monies the City of Toronto created the Housing Stabilization Fund to help operate its own housing support programs under the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative.

This significant decrease in funding is one of the primary reasons why the tracking tool was developed, said Steve Barnes, a policy analyst with the Wellesley Institute.

“The real problem is that they took the provincial fund and cut it in half and only gave half the money they spent on CSUMB to the municipalities,” said Barnes.

Toronto’s 2013 operating budget shows an allocation of $23.9 million for the housing stablization fund, a $14.9 million decrease from what was available under CSUMB. The city estimates approximately 49,000 households will be seeking assistance from the fund, similar to the numbers when funding was provided by the CSUMB.

Charles Caravan, manager of research development and reporting for Toronto Employment and Social Services, pointed out the province has also allocated $42 million to municipalities to ease the transition and act as a buffer while long-term strategies are refined.

“For 2013, the City is focused on ensuring service system stability and limiting service impacts for vulnerable residents,” he said.

Housing maintenance continues to be a critical element of Toronto’s overall affordable housing strategy, and the city fund will play a role in that, said Patricia Anderson, a manager in the city’s shelter, support and housing administration.

“The easiest way to prevent homelessness is to keep the housing you’ve got,” she said.

The Wellesley Institute is in the process of verifying the data obtained through their tracking tool, and will be releasing reports on the impact of the end of CSUMB in the coming months.

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