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Jewish non-profit hosts affordable housing panel

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Panelists discussed the state of affordable housing in Toronto at a debate organized by the Kehilla Residential Programme. JAMIE A MCMILLAN PHOTO

The Kehilla Residential Programme, a non-profit housing agency in Toronto that champions affordable housing initiatives for the Greater Toronto Area’s Jewish community, held a debate between city councillors and developers about the state of affordable housing in the city on Oct. 3.

The debaters gathered on the former stock trading floor of the Design Exchange to discuss the flimsy state of affordable housing in Toronto.

Ontario Housing Minister Peter Milczyn, who gave some opening remarks, outlined three housing-sector issues that were up for debate: whose responsibility it is to provide affordable housing – the private or public sector; the right to own versus the right to rent; Ontario’s Fair Housing Act, including rent controls that were expanded to buildings built after 1991; and impending legislation on Ontario Municipal Board reform and inclusionary zoning.

Issues were bandied about by the panel of industry experts who influence the policies, practices and purse strings behind the housing sector. There were representatives from different levels of government, the development sector and academia.

Moderator Stephen Diamond, CEO of Diamond Corp., handled the debaters deftly and with humour. At some points, the debate seemed more like a collaborative discussion between knowledgeable professionals, but there were some heated moments, such as when Frank Clayton, Ryerson University’s senior research fellow at the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, suggested that government should loosen its restrictions on rental units within personal properties, to create more affordable rental space in the city’s core.

He went so far as to suggest that if the government offered subsidies of $40,000 to homeowners to add secondary suites, the city would still come out ahead.

In his welcoming address, new Kehilla chair Ed Applebaum articulated what the Kehilla Residential Programme is, why it exists and how it makes a difference.

“Kehilla Residential is an agency that focuses on the Jewish population … a population that, similar to the broader community, experiences poverty levels hovering over 14 per cent. Among them are the disabled, single-parent families and a tremendously vulnerable population specific to the Jewish community … the more than 2,500 elderly Holocaust survivors who live in poverty in the GTA. Kehilla is committed to helping as many of these people as possible.”

One way Kehilla achieves this is by providing rent assistance in the form of direct payments of up to $300 per month. The program is funded primarily by people in the real estate industry, as a way of giving back to the community. Many industry insiders were in attendance.

The program was the brainchild of a new influx of young Kehilla board and committee members. The informal round table discussions were timed, allowing participants to meet all of the leaders, as well as network with their peers.

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