Opinion | Think Toronto’s $ 1.5 billion budget deficit is a symptom of COVID-19? Think again

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Large number: 11 cents, the per capita amount that contributed to the costs of social housing in Toronto in 2018 by the provincial government. That’s about 0.04%. 100 of the total amount spent.

There is a statistic buried in city hall’s new 270-page COVID-19 recovery plan – which is due for review by Mayor John Tory’s executive committee on Wednesday – that perfectly sums up why it will be so difficult for Toronto to dig into this. hole.

In 2018, the report says, approximately $ 933 million was spent in Toronto to provide social housing. This works out to about $ 315 per resident. Of this, the provincial government contributed $ 333,250, or about $ 0.11 per capita.

Eleven cents.

Think about it. Linger on it. Imagine a penny and a penny. (Remember when we had money?) Public housing is supposed to be a shared responsibility. For decades, this was seen as more of a provincial responsibility than a municipal responsibility, as the need for affordable housing does not stop at city borders. But the arrangement is now out of balance to the point where one side – the province – is chipping away at the per capita equivalent of pocket money.

The statistic originally comes from an analysis done for a policy document by Gabriel Eidelman, Tomas Hachard and Enid Slack of the University of Toronto, released last January as part of Ontario 360, a series of fantastically old-fashioned work on provincial economic policy.

Timing is important. When this team was writing their article – which examines how shared responsibilities are distributed between the province and municipalities – they had no idea the city would soon be in the throes of a global pandemic, but they still identified the funding imbalance as a significant problem.

And that is exactly the point. Yes, Toronto faces daunting budget numbers during this pandemic – a year-end budget deficit of $ 673.2 million and a projected 2021 deficit of a whopping $ 1.5 billion. But these budget problems facing Toronto were not caused by COVID-19. They are earlier. COVID-19 just upped the numbers and made it harder to postpone the underlying challenge.

A city that can count on only 11 cents per person from its provincial partner for an expensive (and important) issue like social housing is a city that will never find itself on a solid financial footing.

I don’t want to dwell on the late 90’s, but that’s where the problems really started. The spate of moves led by then Prime Minister Mike Harris, who created the amalgamated city of Toronto and handed over a bunch of responsibilities, like funding for housing and transit, created an unworkable situation . The city, with most of its money coming from property taxes and user fees, cannot keep up with the rising costs.

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