Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow announced a $13.4M top-up to the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB) on Monday — much-welcomed news for the City's strained emergency shelter system.

In recent months, Toronto has struggled with finding enough shelter space for those in need, particularly for newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees, many of whom were forced to sleep on the city's sidewalks. The top-up, funded jointly by the City and the Province, will support roughly 1,350 people in securing housing.

Asylum seekers will be prioritized, in addition to other people experiencing homelessness, the City says.

“People deserve dignified access to shelter and housing, regardless of their status," Chow said on Monday. "The City and Province moved quickly to expand the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit to help asylum seekers and other people experiencing homelessness access secure housing. This is an example of what different orders of government can do when they work together."

Applications for the COHB are now open. Those who are given funds will be provided with a portable housing benefit to assist with rental costs in private market housing, which can be used to pay rent anywhere in Ontario. The COHB covers the difference between 30% of a household's income and the average market rent in the area.

Typically, Toronto receives a set amount of funding from the Province each year to support the enrollment of new and eligible households in the COHB. The City, however, used up its 2023/24 allotment by May.

The top-up is now the second batch of additional funding that Chow has secured for housing the city's most vulnerable since taking office in July. During her first week, Chow helped to negotiate a $97M injection from the federal government into the Interim Housing Assistance Program to provide shelter to asylum seekers in Toronto.

“Toronto is committed to welcoming newcomers, including asylum seekers," said Councillor Gord Perks, who serves as Chair of the Planning and Housing Committee. "The City is eager to continue to work with the provincial and the federal governments to ensure all people in Toronto have access to decent emergency shelter when they need it, and ultimately to the decent, permanent housing required to be well and able to contribute to this wonderful city.”

Although this latest infusion will help hundreds of Torontonians afford to rent a home, Chow says there is still more to be done, particularly by the Government of Canada.

"While this program will make an important difference, the City of Toronto, other cities in the region, and community groups are all asking for federal support on a long-term solution," Chow said. "We urge the federal government to step up and join our effort to support asylum seekers and refugee claimants.”