Toronto mayoral candidate to debate affordable housing at Regent Park meeting

'Housing is the most important issue in this campaign,' organizers say

Toronto mayoral candidates have been invited to discuss the city's affordable housing needs at a meeting in Regent Park on Tuesday morning. Mayor John Tory, however, won't be there. He had told organizers he had previous commitments. Meetings are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 246 Sackville St. The meeting was for the tenants of the Toronto Community Housing building. Eleven mayoral candidates are expected.

Marcel Pereira, a housing advocate, said he organized the meeting because he believed affordable housing was a key issue in the Toronto municipal election. The meeting will focus on the need for more affordable housing in Toronto and how the problem can be fixed, he said. "I was forced to do this when I saw there was no housing meeting for mayoral candidates at all," Pereira said Sunday night. "Housing is the most important issue in this campaign." Pereira said he thinks tenants have not been a big part of the housing conversation during the campaign. He said there were only three tenant directors on Toronto's 13-member Community Housing board and he would propose that the number be increased to six.

"What we have to talk about in this election is advance the topic of equality in affordable Toronto housing and contain tenants with seats at the decision-making table," he said. He said housing can give people "a place to retreat from the storms of life." Pereira said candidates will be asked: Do you support the statement that housing is a right? If selected, would you seek to expand the construction of more affordable housing? And how do you do it?

He added that more rental-for-income housing was needed and he hoped the candidates would discuss how to find more income streams for cities to build affordable housing. Social housing improvements are falling behind, says expert Scott Leon, affordable housing researcher at the Wellesley Institute in Toronto, agreeing that affordable housing should be one of the main considerations in the selection.

Leon said there is a need for more funding, construction and acquisition of affordable housing for low-to-medium-income Toronto residents. "We are seeing hundreds of thousands of households struggling with affordability of housing. We are seeing homelessness increasing. We are seeing evictions displacing people from their homes and from their communities," he said. When it comes to Toronto Community Housing, he says that social housing providers have been largely ignored by the city.

"Tragically, repairs and maintenance have been neglected for decades," he said. A recent example was the collapse of the ceiling at Swansea Mews, which prompted the evacuation of the complex, forcing 400 residents to live elsewhere, he said.

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