Public housing isn’t just about dollars and cents

One more quick hit on the TCHC story from this week: The Star’s Robyn Doolittle scored a nice win when she reported Monday that a 79-year-old widow would be displaced by Case Ootes’ move to sell-off housing. This got the attention of the ombudsman’s office — who doesn’t get along well with this administration —  and the widow’s house was saved.

During the controversy, voice-of-the-mayor Doug Ford said this, as reported by Natalie Alcoba:

“Nothing is fair. It’s not fair to the taxpayers that she’s living in a million home, too. I feel sorry for her, my heart goes out to her, but I could take that million dollars and build four other homes and house four other families,” said Councillor Ford.

via TCHC could net $13M from 22-house sale | Posted Toronto | National Post.

This is a variation of a conservative argument that’s been making the rounds today. See also Sue-Ann Levy’s column “Sell! Sell! Sell!” where she ever-so-cautiously tiptoes around the idea of selling housing.

Three things to keep in mind in response to this:

First, it is somewhat challenging and will only get more so to find a single family home in good condition anywhere in Toronto that isn’t valued at more than half a million dollars. Some terribly designed real estate website tells me that the current average price of a detached home in the 416 is $719,843. Semi-detached is $533,039.

If we want to promote mixed-income neighbourhoods and avoid lurching toward an all-Starbucks gentrification across the Old City of Toronto, we’re necessarily going to have to devote some potentially valuable property to low-income housing. This isn’t a big deal: we also devote potentially valuable property to all kinds of social services, like transit facilities and highway off-ramps and fire stations.

Second, the argument that we can house more people for less money if we sell-off single family homes seems to creep toward mid-century thinking that saw efficient housing built vertically as blocks of towers, clustered together in concentrated areas. This was a less-than-succesful strategy.

Third, and not directed at any one thing, the idea that you might be able to ‘motivate’ a person out of poverty by making their life suck just a little bit more doesn’t seem to hold true. Just saying.

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