Toronto looking for permanent rental housing for asylum seekers shut out of shelters

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow’s first motion at city council passed unanimously on Wednesday, supporting her plan to tackle the issue of sheltering a growing number of asylum seekers in the city. The mayor also met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the issue.

The motion directs staff to immediately open 150 shelter spaces for refugee claimants, primarily by renewing shelter hotel contracts, and to find 100 more spaces in the coming days.

“Together, with fellow members of council, we shared Toronto’s commitment to support refugees with new shelter spaces, rent supplements for permanent housing, and ongoing work with other levels of governments on a long-term plan for services and housing when refugees arrive,” Chow told reporters after the council meeting.

City staff was also directed to develop an outreach strategy to pair refugee claimants eligible for the subsidy with property owners with suitable rental accommodations.

Chow and Premier Doug Ford welcomed Ottawa’s funding announcement but say it falls short of the $157 million the city needs to shelter roughly 3,000 asylum claimants.

“We are calling on the federal government to build on its stop-gap funding by fully funding the supports needed to shelter and care for these refugees and asylum seekers in the city,” Ford and Chow wrote in a joint statement Wednesday.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has also been working with provinces and municipalities to provide temporary housing, such as lodging in hotel rooms, the statement said, noting Ottawa will expedite work permit applications.

The issue took on urgency when dozens of people were left to sleep on city sidewalks outside a homeless support centre in recent days with no space available.

Chow’s motion says everyone, regardless of immigration status, would be able to access the city’s shelter system “as space becomes available.”

“This is just the first step of many to come,” said Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie. “We want to be a home that welcomes refugees, we want to be a Toronto for everyone, but we need support to do that.”

Council also approved a $6.67-million top up to a rental housing subsidy program, matched by the provincial government, a move that Ford and Chow said would immediately provide permanent housing to upwards of 1,350 households.

They called on the federal government to step up with another $26.7 million for the program, saying historically the federal government funds two-thirds of the program.

“We must do more and do more quickly to fix this crisis. We urgently call on the federal government to join us in supporting these vulnerable newcomers,” the joint statement states.

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