London Free Press - August 1, 2018

LFP Headlien Aug 1 2018

The cancellation of Ontario’s cap and trade program whisked away more than $9 million for social housing in London,  in the same week Premier Doug Ford scrapped welfare hikes and pilot projects to boost the income of Ontario’s most vulnerable.

Two programs to help upgrade social housing to greener units – including heating and cooling system updates, new windows and doors, and conversion to LED lights – were axed by the provincial government.

The housing funds, one expected to deliver $8.1 million during the next three years and the other offering $1 million to London this year, are the latest initiatives funded by cap and trade revenue to collapse after the  emissions pricing program was cancelled.

The social housing apartment improvement program will still deliver a $5 million boost this year as the fund winds down.

“That’s nine million bucks of money that was desperately needed for social housing,” Coun. Stephen Turner said. “This is indirect downloading to municipalities. It’s shifting it from income tax to property tax. It’s a shell game.”

There’s a desperate need for affordable housing units across London, and city hall is facing a massive backlog of repairs – more than $200 million worth – in its public housing stock during the next four years, far beyond the $2.2 million annual allocation.

The London and Middlesex Housing Corp. described the provincial cuts as “far reaching,” noting the organization already has invested $10,000 to start and support work that would have utilized those funds. The agency had tapped 32 projects at a total cost of $12.6 million.

“Ultimately, our tenants suffer with buildings that continue to age without adequate capital investment,” chief executive Josh Browne said in a statement.

The loss of the housing programs comes at the same time as the Ontario Progressive Conservatives announced the cancellation of the basic income pilot project in three cities and cuts to proposed social assistance increases.

The provincial government defended the move to eliminate the basic income pilot project in the legislature Wednesday, with social services Minister Lisa MacLeod suggesting money “with no strings attached” discourages participants from finding work.

That pilot gave payments to low-income Ontarians in Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay and other communities to gauge whether a minimum income is effective in fighting poverty during the long-term.

Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works rates, expected to rise three per cent, will instead be hiked by 1.5 per cent as the Tories develop a new plan.

And the cuts to social assistance are more widespread and deeper than just those rate reductions, Jacqueline Thompson, executive director of LifeSpin, a support agency for low-income Londoners, said Wednesday.

For example, the PC government also has reduced the amount of money people on social assistance can keep while still working from the proposed $300 a month back to $200 a month, she said.

The $200 a month envelope doesn’t cover much of the expenses of working, from transportation to clothing, Thompson said.

“People aren’t really much further ahead by working. We are trying to get people off the system.”

The Tories also are cutting guide dog benefits to people with vision impairments, allowances for older people, and cancelling full basic benefits to boarders or disabled people who rely on others supplying food and rent.

Many of the cuts come to changes proposed in a December report called Income Security, A Roadmap for Change, submitted to the province by several working groups.

“They’re just pulling the rug out from under that,” Thompson said.

-with files from the Canadian Press

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