SOURCE: YouTube.com (watch the video)
TIME: 3:00 p.m.
REFERENCE: Speech Toronto Housing Network
DATE: July 18, 2009
Stapleton Speech Toronto Housing Network Forum
Margaret Hancock: John Stapleton from the Metcalf Foundation and St. Christopher House.
JOHN STAPLETON: What I’d like to do is have you think of yourself going into a time machine, and you’re going to go back 77 years to 1932. And if you could go in that time machine and think of what Toronto looked like in 1932, about five blocks from here, right at this time of year – there was during the month of July of 1932 a Royal Commission on Direct Relief run by Ontario’s top businessman.
At that time, it was a fellow by the name of Wallace Campbell who ran – now called the CEO of – the Ford Motor Company of Canada, and in that review, he devised what in fact was what we might call the first social assistance rates. This report went back to Premier Henry, who believed that it was much too radical to actually pay people ‘actual cash money’. One of the recommendations that Campbell had put in his report was the idea of that housing costs should be 40 percent of the social assistance (relief) rates that he recommended. He had different rates for singles and couples and families with children.
But it was David Croll, the 34-year-old minister under Mitch Hepburn in 1934, who dusted off this Campbell report and actually put in the first relief rates in Ontario, and paid out cash money to people for the first time in 1935. So it is interesting that Ontario conducted that review of social assistance and poverty reduction in 1932, and that report gained traction through 1934 and 1935. In fact, the forerunner to the social planning council in Toronto was asked by the Ontario government whether we should have cash assistance rates and they actually came back saying “no” – that it was too radical an idea. This is very interesting.
But right about the same time, a Housing commission was also doing its work, and this work was done by Herbert Bruce, who in fact was the person who started the Wellesley Hospital that later became the Wellesley Institute. Bruce was Lieutenant Governor at that time, and he came up with the idea of having what would now be considered urban renewal or a form of public housing. It was done entirely separately from the Campbell Report, which would now be considered poverty reduction or a social assistance review.
It seems that now we’re somewhat doing the same thing; that is, we are having a review of public housing. And for those of you who are interested, it’s all in this book. I always try to come with one book and say: “Here’s something that everybody should read” but this (holds book up) is the Historical Atlas of Toronto, and it has a picture of this green (coloured) report, the report of the Lieutenant Governor’s Committee on Housing Conditions in Toronto.
I’ll just read from it:
“… In 1936 because of this report, a by-law was passed regulating standards for housing …a Canadian first…. and a new federal Loans Guarantee Act was also passed in 1936, partly in response to Toronto’s leadership.”
So we have a housing report, and a Housing Commission by the Lieutenant Governor, and we had a report basically on relief just before that time. So we seem to be repeating that in the same way now with reports being off on separate tracks.
Then in 1946 as part of post war reconstruction, CMHC was formed.
And in Ontario, something we called the Ontario Housing Corporation somewhat later– Who can forget Stanley Randall talking about how Karl Marx got it wrong?
I would try to make the case that since the government has announced a social assistance review, a social policy institute , and a citizen-centred approach to services – which is all in the report by Deb Matthews, Breaking the Cycle -which is where we could start looking at some of these things together. The way I think it should come together – and I’m going to talk about one thing that came out of some of those earlier reports – where finally in the 1970s, some provinces started, and some nations started to implement – something called a ‘housing benefit’.
Just to ‘short form’ it, the only housing benefit that we actually have in Ontario, or the only significant one, is within social assistance itself, and that’s called the Shelter Component. And what happened in the mid-1990s, when social assistance was being cut back by 21.6 percent, the same cuts actually cut back the Shelter Component by 21.6 percent.
So you had a very large housing benefit at that time being cut by that amount. But in 1997, that same Shelter Component was cut to homeless people and was disallowed to them. Then in 1998, that same Shelter Component affected the working poor population was also cut when Supplementary Aid and Special Assistance programs in the General Welfare Assistance program (GWA) – if some of us even remember that – were also cut.
Here we have a social assistance Shelter Component that was cut down, and at the same time, only those who are receiving social assistance actually receive it. That is, the very poor don’t get it – the homeless – and those people who are working poor don’t get it. So one of the things that a number of us have been looking at is the idea of a renewed shelter benefit that would again go to all groups of people who are low income and living in poverty. It would go to people who are homeless. It would go to people who are in the working poor population.
And the way we would do that is to simply take the social assistance benefit that we have right now that is divided into basic needs and shelter, which was first divided by basic needs and shelter going back to the 1930s, a matter that was enforced by a program, a major program called the Canada Assistance Plan.
(Sound of phone)…
STAPLETON: Now if that’s that’s for me, tell them I’m out.
STAPLETON: The Canada Assistance Plan was actually ended by the federal government in 1996, but we still kept this structure of having basic needs and shelter. But we really don’t need that anymore. We could declare the amounts that are paid now – that basic needs and shelter – we could simply declare that to be ‘basic’ because the amount paid for shelter is very low. We would say that the overall amount paid is one indivisible rate.
Then on top of that we would pay a shelter benefit or a ‘housing benefit’ as we have called it, to all low-income people who need help with housing costs –
- Those on social assistance,
- Those who are financially eligible for social assistance but cannot collect it, and
- To homeless people,
And we would say “Here is a shelter benefit that we will pay starting at the base rent that is already computed in social assistance (the shelter component), and then pay that on top of the amounts that are now paid for overall benefits.
In other words, it would be a model that wouldn’t have in it the idea of a clawback. When the national child benefit was implemented, you all know that it had this clawback component to it. So we’re suggesting a benefit that would go on top of social assistance, and would pay starting from the Shelter Component amounts – right now, which are very, very low. (You’ve heard people already say they’re very low). We would then pay an amount up to the median rent in a particular community so that the benefit would be able to actually recognize that shelter costs, in some remote communities may be very low, and yet may be very high in a community like Toronto or Ottawa.
You would actually be paying more in shelter benefits in those places. We would do it not at 100 percent, but at a very high percent, such as 75 percent, so that it wouldn’t have the effect that people often say that it would inflate the cost of housing because the rental market (landlords) would take that into account and therefore start charging higher rent.
This new housing benefit is just one arrow in the quiver. It’s just one idea that could be used that would help pay benefits outside of social assistance, and yet at the same time would pay benefits to those people who were originally cut out of those benefits back in 1995, 1997 and 1998.
It’s a way of taking the shelter benefit that was paid and bringing it back, redesigning it, taking it outside of social assistance like the OCB, the Ontario Child Benefit, and then adding it to a basic living component.
I have a number of things that I could say at this point but I’ll wait until question period. Thank you.