List of policy commitments

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Child Poverty

This is a graphic showing concentrations of child poverty across the Beaches East York ward; it indicates that 21.1% of the ward's children live in poverty

In some of our neighbourhoods in the ward, 1 out of 20 every child comes from a family with a low income. In other pockets, half of the children you see come from a family who is struggling to get by.

 Municipal government does not have the power to improve these family incomes, but we do have the ability to make a difference.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi tells this story of growing up in the city. “We were low-income,” he explains, “but we were not poor.” He waits for a pause before he explains further. There was a public pool and a library in his neighbourhood. And a quick transit ride downtown let him into the museum on the days it had free admission.

We have the power as a City to make sure every kids gets a fair chance. Part of the Toronto Poverty Reduction Plan will do that. Our Youth strategy will also help. But we also need to look at every proposed city action, and ask, is this making us a poorer city or a richer one?

I will be a voice to ensure we are not letting our city become more unequal.

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Residential Streets and Speeding

Traffic and speeding cars are one of the most common areas of concern I hear from people. This is especially important as most schools are located on residential streets!

If streets provide a dual function:

  1. as places where we live, meet neighbours, children play and also
  2. as links between destination, providing a way to travel between places,  

then surely our residential streets should lean towards the first of those. They, above all, should be safe places.

Yet, too many of our streets are designed as small highways, with sidewalks as an afterthought. I have seen mothers pushing strollers alongside other children, end up off the curb as they negotiated many of our narrow sidewalks.

 So I want to see bulb-outs at street corners (where guerrilla gardeners can play!), wider sidewalks, two-sided parking and other creative ways we can slow traffic in our neighbourhoods, better than speed bumps.

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Accessibility

The AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) will impel more sectors to provide appropriate accommodations over the course of this Council term. These are needs which will only grow with our aging population.

Yet Council is not relieved of an obligation to respond. It has both an important role at the leadership level and fiscally. We still have work to do on our transit system as those changes role out now. We must continue to examine how our programs and services are delivered, and whether they are done with an inclusive, low-barrier model.

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Higher Property Taxes

We pay the lowest property taxes in the GTA although we receive some of the highest levels of service. For even just an added one dollar a day, we could move on many of the city-building initiatives that would make this a better place to live, to travel around, to work and play in. I think most people would be willing to pay that if we could see the improvements around us. We have to be mindful of sticker-shock. People will not willingly hand over more money if improvements are not apparent. So we need to respect tax-payers and trust them with more transparency.

The City also has a number of options besides raising property taxes, tools under the City of Toronto Act, which we should explore further. My work on the elimination of the Vacant Commercial Property Tax Rebate is one example of creative workarounds we can look at. I also believe the Vehicle Registration Tax should be restored. The “McMansion” tax on homes worth over $4 million has also been proposed and is something I am in favour of.

The City has a Revenue problem that it must get on top of if it is to be fiscally sustainable.

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Inclusive Zoning

Inclusive zoning is one of the new tools that cities have to make sure that some affordable housing is being built. The legislation means that cities can require that developers offer part of any new building as an affordable rate – rather than at a market-driven one. Through my time at the Federation of Metro Tenants Association, I fought for these new municipal powers, and in April of this year, the province granted them.

So the new City Council will have to develop the new regulations to carry this forth. Unless Toronto adopts a strong program, we risk becoming more and more like Manhattan in New York city, where only the richest people can afford to live.

The policy of inclusive zoning provides an important source of new housing, as government is not able to meet the full demand. Channeling the richer resources of the private market into a positive direction is much more impactful. In my conversations with the Development community is that they will adapt to the new regime, as long as all other developers are also bound by the same rules.

We need to channel the building boom in this city so that everyone benefits.

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Our natural environment

I am a tree hugger, one who enjoys our ravines and waterfronts. A nature walk is just my speed, groups pausing to observe a butterfly fluttering by or to study a tiny mushroom hidden in a carpet of leaves. I pull up Dog Strangling Vine automatically from railway embankments or public pathways. And having secured @TOnature for them, I am the Twit who tweets for the Toronto Field Naturalists.

Our city is a great, green environment perched at the edge of a great lake!  

Within our ward, Beaches East York, we have environmentally sensitive areas and waterways that need active protection. Ravines riddle our neighbourhoods and free-flowing water frames it. East Yorkers have historically worked to protect their ravines, and the people of the Beach know the preciousness of the natural treasure before them, a Great Lake, indeed. 

Still, our natural environment is under constant pressure, and it is pushing back. Recent weather events, flooding in the city or overheating demand we respond. As even Harrison Ford has said, “we need nature; it doesn’t need us.”

If elected, I commit to working with local residents and to be a nature guardian, to:

  • protect our environmentally sensitive areas from encroachment
  • protect our ward's natural heritage and biodiversity, including working to provide the funding to do that
  • work to move the City's Ravine and the Pollinator Protection Strategies forward to action
  • work to adopt Biodiversity and Parkland Strategies at the City
  • work to reduce water quality advisories and pollution

 

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Homelessness

Housing is a basic human right. However, our city shelters are regularly at 96%+ capacity, well over the 90%+ capacity target set by City Council. In heat or freezing temperatures, this is stretched even further.

The living conditions are also often reprehensible. One of the largest city shelters has battled outbreaks of influenza and strep. These are killing diseases among those living on the street. Bed bugs, lice, and random violence also increase the stress and risk of using our shelters. The Street Health Surveys and other research have shown the human cost of this system.

The lack of capacity in our system also means that we are unable to respond when needed, whether by a change in weather, a fire, or some other unplanned shift. Faith institutions have responded to this gap by offering Out of the Cold. It is a bandaid which can save lives but it does not get to the systemic roots of homelessness, such as poverty, mental health and addiction, racism, gentrification and housing affordability. If we are going to halt the premature deaths of so many of our city's residents, we need bigger picture thinking.

As Canada's largest city, and as a caring one, we need to be able to respond to people's need, providing them with dignified lodgings. But this is not just a feel-good issue. Preventing homelessness saves us all money. Over the past two decades, people from Malcolm Gladwell and his Million Dollar Murray to federal research projects and even police departments in B.C. have worked to quantify these costs. Chez Soi found that when someone is homeless in Toronto, it costs the system $59,000. We can house and feed someone for less than it costs for them to be on the street. 

The new federal Housing Strategy offers municipalities the opportunity to access funding, to target funding, and to build a strong evidence base for why these investments are good ones.

So we should expect more than hand-wringing or stop-gap measures. We need a City Councillor ready to act at the system level and focused on solutions.

If elected, I commit to:

  • advocate for permanent solutions to homelessness, using Housing First, transitional housing and supportive housing where appropriate to individuals
  • in the interim, push for an expansion and enhancement of our current shelter system, both the numbers of beds available through emergency response,and the standards within current shelters, and the number of shelters available, especially for youth, women and other targeted populations
  • prioritize repairs on Toronto Community Housing buildings as the stock continues to deteriorate without timely intervention
  • introduce requirements that property developers replace the continuing loss of deeply affordable units as residential hotels and rooming houses continue to be sold in a rising real estate market
  • work with the Affordable Housing Office and CreateTO to ensure our public land developments include provisions for affordable housing, both rental and ownership, as defined by median incomes, not the market

 

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Child care

I was able to work when I was young mother, I was able to work and support my family because we had access to child care and a subsidy. I know this issue both at a personal level and from my professional work, looking at children’s wellbeing.

#Ward19 families facing the biggest shortage of licensed child care live in these two postal codes: M4L (39% kids have local childcare available); M4C (38% coverage). In the rest of the ward parents still struggle to find child care, as there is child care spaces for less than half the kids in the ward.

The City of Toronto has a 10- year ”growth strategy” to make affordable, high-quality, licensed  child care available to more Toronto families. The multi-year plan depends on funding from the federal, provincial and municipal governments.  The strategy is to achieve the following by 2026:

  • increase the number of licensed child care spaces by 30,000 in the not-for-profit sector to provide for 50% of children 0-4 yrs. 
  • lower fees by 50% for all families through direct-operating grants
  • increase fee subsidies to ensure 40% of all spaces are available for low-income families
  • increase salaries for early childhood professionals
  • add resources for indigenous and special needs programs

In 2018, the city budget was to include $11.2M to match federal and provincial funding with 20% municipal dollars. Instead this was cut and spread out over 3 years. The Doug Ford government promised tax credits during the election, and has been unclear about its intentions for child care funding.

In a 2018 report, the City Auditor General recommended eliminating City-run child care and contracting the services to the non-for-profit sector. City-run child care sets the benchmark for program quality, salaries and service to low-income communities and special needs children. The costs are higher as a result. Council over-turned the AG recommendations, and have requested a further report.

Council approved creating a modern waitlist technology and a system to reduce the confusion and increase fairness for accessing child care spaces in Toronto.  The subsidy system continues to be hard to understand and access.

With the election of the new provincial government, we have now seen the cap on for-profit child care removed. This will effect the quality of child care delivery and divert public dollars into for-profit enterprises.

My Commitment:

East End families need access to high-quality, affordable, not-for- profit child care services.  If elected I will work with parents, child care advocates and community organizations to:

  • Protect public funding for non-profit centres
  • Expedite implementation of  the Child Care Growth Strategy
  • Keep City-operated child care services in current and new locations
  • Broaden eligibility for fee subsidy to more families, particularly part-time and shift workers, and streamline the application and approval process
  • Pay decent salaries to child care staff

 

 

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Housing

“The rent is too damn high!” said Jimmy McMillan. That cry from a New York political party more than a decade ago even led to spots on Saturday Night Live. Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs had become the playing field for international investors.

In 2018, Torontonians list housing affordability as one of the biggest concerns. Our kids cannot afford to live in the neighbourhoods where they grew up. In fact, many are leaving the city. This spring, RBC economists said it takes over ¾ of a household’s income to buy a house in Toronto. Even the Toronto Board of Trade has now recognized that the rising cost of housing deters recruiting talent.

Those hoping to rent face a rental market driven by profiteering. “Affordable” is defined by the average mark rent – not the average income. Incomes are not keeping up with the ambitions of some landlords. The word “renovictions” has entered our vocabulary.

Municipal government can shape this trend in several ways. A coalition of over 50 housing providers and advocates have identified a number of strategies. I am happy to have been one of the early signers of the Toronto Housing Pledge.

That calls for:

  1. No more homeless deaths
  2. Financial stability for Toronto Community Housing
  3. Make "affordable housing" truly affordable
  4. Ensure new residential development includes everyone
  5. Mobilize Toronto's resources to build more affordable housing

 

These are grand ideas that have to be turned into action with specific tools. City Council has some of the concrete measures it can take to make housing more affordable, many of which I have worked on:

  • Nonprofit housing
  • Conversion of public land to affordable housing and other uses
  • Community hubs with housing (imagine seniors housing with a childcare centre)
  • Landlord licensing
  • Inclusive zoning, second suites and laneway housing
  • Speedier planning processes

 

I would continue this deep reform work and also champion some new areas:

  • Toronto needs to expand our affordable and supportive housing stock. The City should prioritize nonprofit applications to build affordable housing. On the operating side, private market landlords currently receive higher rent subsidies than Rent-Geared-to-Income housing providers. I would work to equalize those payments.
  • Too many tenants are living in substandard conditions; Toronto needs to expand, enhance and strengthen RentSafeTO. A stronger emphasis on enforcement of rental building inspections through Municipal Licensing & Standards will ensure tenants are living in housing that meets minimum legal standards. As this is self-financed, it does not add costs to the expense side of our City budget.
  • Multi-residential homes are currently taxed at a commercial rate. What most people don't know is that (a) tenants in multi-residential buildings are paying these property taxes, and (b) they are higher than home owners' rates. As reductions are introduced, tenants are meant to be rebated the difference. The City must ensure these cost savings are passed back to tenants who pay them.
  • Which book club hasn’t thought about living together as they age? A reform of zoning laws would allow housing co-sharing and gently increase neighbourhood densities. This would expand housing choices without requiring government capital financing.
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