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Canada Ontario to make it easier for public-housing authorities to deny applications of criminals

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark announced the regulatory changes to the Housing Services Act, along with a suite of other social-housing measures.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government says it will make it easier for public-housing authorities to deny units to tenants who have previously been evicted for committing crimes.

It’s a move long demanded by Toronto officials and the city’s mayor, John Tory. He has complained that gangs and drug-dealers were terrorizing some public-housing buildings and that even after offenders had been evicted, housing authorities were powerless to deny them units when they reapplied.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark announced the regulatory changes to the Housing Services Act, along with a suite of other social-housing measures. Mr. Clark also outlined plans to spend $1-billion in 2019-20 for repairs, affordable-housing programs and other measures meant to combat homelessness across the province – cash included in last week’s provincial budget.

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Mr. Clark said his announcement, made in Newmarket, shows the government is serious about helping some of the province’s poorest people.

“My feeling is this is a priority for our government,” he said. “We need to have a plan in place to deal with our most vulnerable citizens.”

But the details remain unclear. The Opposition NDP insists the $1-billion in funding is actually a budget cut, down from $1.25-billion spent on affordable-housing programs last year and in years before that. The government counters that the previous year’s number included one-time costs, such as surplus provincial land handed over for affordable-housing projects.

And officials with the City of Toronto, which owns the province’s largest social-housing agency, Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC), said Wednesday they had no idea what provincial money would flow to the agency for much-needed repairs.

The city has been agitating for about $1.6-billion from both federal and provincial governments to help fix its decaying social-housing stock. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed $1.3-billion over the next decade to go toward TCHC repairs.

Toronto’s mayor welcomed the changes to allow housing authorities more power to keep out those convicted of serious crimes.

“This change by the province sends a strong message to criminals that they are not welcome in TCHC and we will not tolerate them threatening the peace and well-being of our communities,” Mr. Tory said.

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He said city officials were still awaiting details on the funding to determine if and how much TCHC, which has thousands of dilapidated units, stood to benefit.

According to a letter Mr. Clark sent to Mr. Tory on Wednesday and provided to The Globe and Mail, the full details are to be shared in the coming days. However, Mr. Clark said the city will receive $200-million in 2019-20 through various programs.

But some of that money is actually federal cash, according to the letter, and it was unclear how much of it could be spent on TCHC repairs or how much would be earmarked for supportive housing or other initiatives. Some of the money was previously committed. It was also unclear how the overall amount had changed.

Mr. Clark also announced other regulatory changes on Wednesday aimed at public housing, including a move aimed at reducing public-housing waiting lists – Toronto has 170,000 people waiting for units – by having tenants accept the first unit they are offered.

The government is also looking to change the way rents – “rent-geared-to-income” – are calculated in social housing. To encourage tenants to pursue education or new work opportunities, the government said it plans to remove penalties for tenants who see work hours increase or attend college or university.

It also said it would ensure child-support payments do not affect how much rent tenants pay. But prospective tenants would also face “asset tests,” although Mr. Clark said housing providers would be able to tailor these tests to the community they serve.

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