Privatizing public housing in Canada, A public policy agenda

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Abstract

The new Progressive Conservative (PC) government in Ontario is planning to sell the 84,500 units (using the UK model) of public housing that it owns. This paper presents an evaluation of the programs to sell off public housing in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. After a comparative evaluation, the author makes several recommendations for the Ontario government. The author argues that Canadian public-housing tenant characteristics are different from those in the UK. Ontario's public-housing tenants are too poor to purchase these units. They would be unable to maintain the unit and carry the costs (property tax, insurance, and utilities) even if the units were given to them free.

The author concurs that the sale of public housing units in the USA and the UK may have generated some revenue and saved some costs. However, he points out that in the long run, the modest financial gains will be offset by higher operating costs. The sale of the best units and those that are easy to maintain, along with the loss of higher-income tenants, will no doubt result in higher average operating costs for the remaining Units. Such unintended consequences of the sale should be avoided by the Ontario government. The author recommends that the province develop a comprehensive and multi-purpose plan covering an array of programs (including the sale of some units) rather than concentrate exclusively on the sale.

Cyrus Vakili-Zad is an urban sociologist with more than ten years of research and teaching experience in Iran, the USA, and Canada. He has worked for the social housing sector in different capacities since 1988 in Boston, Massachusetts and currently in Toronto, Ontario. He is currently a research fellow at the Centre for Applied Social Research, University of Toronto and a member of a steering commitee on a major research project studying the housing experiences of refugees and immigrants in Metropolitan Toronto. The project is called Housing Experience of New Canadians.