On Friday, Toronto City Council approved the 24-Month COVID-19 Housing and Homelessness Response Plan – Update, which means an acceleration of 150 new supportive housing opportunities for the city's most vulnerable.

Earlier this month, the Planning and Housing Committee implored officials to review programs, funding sources, and legislative tools available to all levels of government, in order to increase housing supply in the coming weeks -- particularly housing that's suitable for those living outside in encampments or in the shelter system.

According to officials, the report outlines how the municipality can speed up 150 new supportive housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness, within eight to 10 weeks, through existing operating funding.

What's more, the document says that if there is an immediate commitment of $12.24 million annually from the federal and provincial governments for operating funding, a further 510 housing opportunities could be created within 10 to 12 weeks. This $12.24M falls under the municipality's previously-requested $48 million in annual funding from other orders of government for 2,000 supportive homes, as part of the 24-month COVID-19 Housing and Homelessness Plan.

"We are doing everything we can as a City government to help people have a safe place inside during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, City Council took action to open up even more supportive housing units for people. And with the help of the provincial and federal governments, we have a plan to create even more affordable, supportive housing and a path out of homelessness for more residents," said Mayor John Tory.

READ: City Calls for Government Partnership to Create 3,000 Affordable Homes in Toronto

A combination of vacant Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) units, plus new acquisitions and renovations, could work together to deliver these new, accelerated opportunities. The funding the City has readily available -- sufficient for 150 new homes for one year -- will provide the support services necessary to aid individuals living in shelters, or outside in encampments, to move into housing successfully.

"City funding will include the use of up to $47 million from the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration's capital budget and approximately $3.5 million in Open Door incentives to support these housing efforts," officials say. "The additional $12.24 million in annual operating funding is needed immediately from the other orders of government to support the implementation of the remaining 510 supportive housing units."

Between March and December, the City says almost 2,000 new permanent housing opportunities were created. This includes 100 modular supportive homes, more than 350 new homes through the Open Door program, and more than 1,500 households (2,850 people) assisted in moving from shelter to housing, through a combination of rent-geared-to-income units and housing allowances.

Also, already in progress are 588 new affordable rental homes, which are projected to be opened before the end of next year. With a further commitment of $14 million annually in operating funding from the federal and provincial governments, the City says, these homes could be used to create supportive housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness.

The city's report acknowledges gratitude to the federal and provincial support initiatives, but insists that ongoing operating funding and housing benefits are still required -- particularly as new affordable and supportive housing units become available -- in order to provide immediate and ongoing operating funding to support residents in these new homes.

"Ongoing operating supports remain the missing piece of the puzzle," officials say.

And the urgency, and the opportunity, for all levels of government to quickly provide housing options for vulnerable and marginalized residents has only been highlighted through the ongoing pandemic. Shelter accommodation costs for one individual, before COVID-19, amounted to more than $3,000 per month, and have now more than doubled due to the extra space and other protective resources needed during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, accommodating one person in permanent, supportive and affordable housing, such as a studio apartment, costs approximately $2,000 per month.

"Our top priority must be to end chronic homelessness in our city. That means ensuring that people have access to a range of housing options, with wrap-around supports that meet different needs. But we can only achieve this through increased, immediate and long-term funding commitments from the Federal and Provincial Governments," says Joe Cressy, councillor and chair of the Toronto Board of Health.

"Housing and health are interconnected, and the health of our city, our province, and our country depends on moving closer to a day when everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.”

The actions outlined in the 24-Month COVID-19 Housing and Homelessness Response Plan – Update are part of the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, a comprehensive blueprint to assist more than 341,000 people with a focus on creating permanent housing solutions.

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