The Brief History of Cuts to Social Housing in Toronto

by M. Cook – BASICS #17 (Jan / Feb 2009)

Patrick LeSage, former Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Ontario, has been conducting public forums investigating Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s (TCHC) eviction policies after the death of a former TCHC tenant. We, at BASICS, want to provide tenants with another space to share their experiences and to organize to make changes. This article is intended to provide a brief overview of social housing and we hope to continue a series on social housing based on tenants’ experiences.


Canada has never had a national housing strategy. After WWII, the Canadian government began to construct public housing as a response to the struggles waged by strong labour unions and community organizers. Regent Park was one of the first public housing projects, built in the 1950s. The ruling establishment liked it because it was seen as a way to control a potentially radical collective force, the working class. The project resulted in the destruction of a previously working-class neighborhood (Cabbagetown) and the displacement of its residents.

Throughout the 1960s, the Canadian government increased its funding for public housing. Upwards of 20,000 new social housing units were being built per year in Canada.
But by the 1970s, social housing was coming under attack by both the Canadian government and the media.

Firstly, the Canadian government (both Conservatives and Liberals) began to remove its funding for public housing. In 1973, the Canadian government started placing more funds in non-profit housing. From 1984 onward, the government cut transfer payments. From the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, the federal government placed the financial responsibility for social housing onto the provincial governments. Then in the late 1990s, the Ontario government passed on the responsibility to the City of Toronto.

Secondly, this period also saw a massive loss of unionized manufacturing jobs, forcing more people to work low-wage service jobs. Subsequently, the supply of private rental housing dropped as it was no longer profitable. As the need for affordable housing increased and the supply dwindled, the cost of private rental housing became more unaffordable.

The economic changes during this period disproportionately affected working-class people, and especially those from non-European backgrounds. Instead of blaming the system that forced these problems onto people, the media began to blame the people, especially racialized single mothers, for the problems they faced.

Since 1998, there have been no new social housing units created, despite the over 70,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Toronto.
Instead, the City and TCHC are undertaking “urban revitalization” projects that decrease the overall number of units while displacing low-income tenants.

In fact, in 2005, the City gave up on its original condition that the development was to replace all the social housing units on site. The new Regent Park development will provide social housing for only 65% of the original number of tenants. The other tenants will be forced to relocate.

TCHC placed the interests of private developers first and offered to reduce their financial risk by cutting the number of social housing units. The displacement of the tenants in Regent Park will be directly linked to the increases in profits the private developers will make by selling those units.

So who is to blame?

Both the federal and provincial governments have passed the financial responsibility onto a city that cannot adequately meet the needs of its people. They take the bulk of our taxes and use it to bail out banks.

The City has played a large role in putting business interests above those of people in the new “revitalization” projects which privatize a portion of public land to raise the redevelopment capital.

The TCHC has done an awful job at managing the City of Toronto’s public housing stock. Their new public management strategy has resulted in more evictions and more buildings falling into states of disrepair because of the lack of maintenance.

What can we do?

It is now clear that private market housing developers do not build quality affordable housing for working people. As such we must organize to demand this be a priority for alllevels of government.

We want to hear from you about your experiences with TCHC. Email us at basics.community@gmail.com.

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  1. hanna mohamed said:

    toronto community housing single mother i feel sorry for them very few horror stories some dont even want to talk about it because of protecting their children some neibhours are very bad and extermily jealous.

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