As mentioned in this post, I had the opportunity to participate with the Mayor on a panel looking at poverty in Canada. Although I don’t agree with all of his policy directions, I have long thought of him as a potential resource in the city due to his background as the former national Minister of Housing. So, when at the event he said he would like to hear more about my work, I took the opportunity and followed-up by arranging a meeting.
There were three things that I wanted to focus on in the meeting: the lack of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing mentioned in the community plan on housing, the challenges facing supportive housing, and the possibility for him to take a lead on intergovernmental work on housing in Canada. Overall, I was very impressed with the perspective that Mayor Fontana brought to housing. He was well aware of the idea of ‘housing first’ being an internationally recognized solution to homelessness. He also recognized the importance of spreading social housing throughout the community rather than just creating large social housing developments. Here is how he addressed the three issues:
- RGI units: Mayor Fontana agreed that the RGI model is more affordable housing, and that it has worked well in the past. He also sees this as a means to spreading social housing through the community. However, we both recognized that the current incentive system is for affordable housing (ie. 80% of market rates) versus RGI.
- Similarly, Mayor Fontana agreed that supportive housing (ie. housing with supports) is much more difficult than affordable housing. This is where he said that intergovernmental work had the most promise, that breaking down the silos of housing and health might make space for funding case workers or health professionals to be a part of housing developments. However, this point seemed the farthest from being connected to meaningful solutions.
- Mayor Fontana seemed to relate to the idea of London becoming a leader in social housing through his unique experiences. It seemed evident that he was already being tapped by politicians at other levels to work on housing platforms. Most importantly, he is convening a housing roundtable this week, and I feel privileged to be invited. I will keep you appraised as to where this is heading.
Overall, it was a very good meeting, and hopefully a sign of better things to come for our community. An 8-9 year waiting list is not acceptable, and we have a lot of ground to make up since the cancelling of the national housing program in the early 90′s. Also, there are a group of people for whom affordable housing is not sufficient, and they become the chronically homeless. It seems to me that this demonstrates an urgent gap in the system that the Mayor can be a part of plugging.