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Centre for Urban and
Community Studies
University of Toronto
455 Spadina Ave.
Suite 400
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5S 2G8

(416) 978-2072
(416) 978-7162

Policy Archives

Housing, Poverty, Homelessness

Housing and Town Planning, 1912
C.A. Hodgetts, M.D., Medical Advisor, Public Health Committee, Commission of Conservation
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Dr. Hodgetts presented an overview of housing conditions in Canada at the third annual meeting of the Commission of Conservation, a federal agency. "We have been doing nothing to better the homes of our people... It is from the standpoint of the health of the people that the all-important question of housing must be approached." Town planning is required, he argues, because planning will "encourage and facilitate through co-operation in the providing of housing accommodation for town dwellers whereby they will have sufficient light, and space."

Town Planning, Housing and Public Health, 1916
Thomas Adams, Town Planning Adviser, Commission of Conservation
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At the seventh annual meeting of the Commission of Conservation in Ottawa, Thomas Adams reports on progress in town planning. He notes that the war has curtailed work on civic improvement, but that planning will benefit postwar readjustment when the time comes. He describes the existing system of land development as “defective” and identi-fies a “crying need” for agricultural policy to ensure stability and permanent settlement in rural areas. Province by province, he outlines the progress made towards enacting town planning legislation and the application of town planning principles in cities throughout Canada. He concludes with a recommendation for a housing survey that would contrib-ute to housing legislation in the provinces, describes progress in raising public aware-ness of town planning, and urges the provinces to create departments of municipal affairs to deal with land valuation, taxation, and assessment.

Housing Experience in Toronto, 1917
G. Frank Beer, President of the Toronto Housing Company
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G. Frank Beer suggests reforms to the housing system of the time. He states that the work of the Toronto Housing Company is not to build housing but to investigate housing conditions and translate those findings into action. He recommends reform of the laws governing housing construction, to ensure that those who live in the housing have suffi-cient light, air, and sanitary facilities, and action to ensure that existing housing meets the same standards. These reforms cannot be viewed in isolation from wider issues of town planning, such as access to transportation and the siting of manufacturing plants and shopping areas. Land tax reform is also needed to prevent speculation in land and the orderly development of communities. Beer concludes with a recommendation for a Town Planning Act that would support these objectives.

Report of the Lieutenant Governor’s Committee on Housing Conditions in Toronto, 1934
Herbert A. Bruce, chairman
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This excerpt consists of the foreword and conclusions to the committee’s report. The foreword explains how the committee was formed and how it carried out its work, first, of surveying housing conditions among Toronto’s poorest households, especially those in Moss Park and the Ward, and second, of gathering information about housing conditions in general in Toronto and other jurisdictions. The conclusion contains four recommen-dations: establishing a City Planning Commission for Toronto; eliminating by improvement or replacement of 2,000 to 3,000 unfit houses identified in the survey; demolishing slum areas and providing low-cost housing; and securing the federal and provincial gov-ernments’ cooperation in achieving these objectives.

A Housing Programme for Canada, 1935
Humphrey Carver
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Carver believes that the question of housing should be approached in a holistic manner, not simply as a matter of clearing slums or building cheap housing, but of creating an ur-ban environment that promotes free and healthy citizens. He describes how land speculation prevents orderly community planning at the edge of the city, and how devel-opment within the city creates decaying or blighted areas that tend to become slums. Only town planning for all citizens (not just those in wealthy areas) will alleviate these problems. After describing the European approach to planned housing, Carver recom-mends a federal authority to provide low-cost housing for families that would make careful surveys of existing housing conditions in cities and plan “neighbourhood units” that would function as complete communities. He suggests that the needs of many households can be satisfied through the creation of multi-unit dwellings, and brushes aside the “sentimental objections” to this kind of housing, explaining that blocks of flats can be built economically and can provide comfortable, efficient, healthy housing for many families.

Calls 1935 Dominion Housing Act a Comedy of Errors
Montreal Gazette, A speech by
Percy E. Nobbs
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An article from the Montreal Gazette reports on a speech by Professor Percy E. Nobbs, the McGill dean of architecture, to the Kiwanis Club of Montreal, in which he criticized the recently enacted Dominion Housing Act. The act benefited people who were able to buy houses worth $5,000 to $12,000. Nobbs pointed out that these people were already adequately housed and the act failed to benefit those in the greatest need — those earning very low wages. He recommended two drastic changes to the Act: the govern-ment should offer 20% second mortgages to homeowners, not 80% first mortgages, and that buildings intended for rental accommodation should be treated the same as owner-occupied buildings. Nobbs ridiculed the bias towards homeownership, and stated that the act should be redesigned to benefit low-income rental households, most of whom were paying more than they could afford in rent.

Housing in Canada, 1938
F.W. Nicolls, Director of Housing, Division of Finance, Ottawa
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Nichols outlines the Canadian housing program of the late 1930s. The Home Improvement Loans Guarantee Act helped property owners modernize and improve housing; within 14 months the program had assisted almost 33,000 households in all nine provinces. The Dominion Housing Act provided renewable ten-year loans for the construction of new dwellings, and had contributed to the construction of more than 3,000 family housing units. The Act also stimulated the creation of low-rent housing, usually by limited dividend companies. A low-cost housing competition had been held to stimulate good design of small, low-cost units and the National Research Council was at work on a National Building Code. Nicolls is generally optimistic about the future of housing in the country.

“The Ultimate Housing Problem,” from Houses for Canadians, 1948
Humphrey Carver
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Canada ended the war with a severe housing shortage. By 1948, those with the lowest incomes were still having great difficulty finding affordable, adequate housing. Carver advocates greater national attention to the housing shortage, and notes that the City of Toronto, alone among Canadian municipalities, was building rental housing through its own public housing authority “because there is no other way in which such rental hous-ing can be produced” and because “the economic market cannot by itself fulfil the hous-ing needs of the Canadian people.” He also notes that the “crude products of the speculative builder” often fail to appeal to stable families with modest means, who prefer to buy older houses for more money than cheaper, but mediocre new houses, and advo-cates a greater attention to landscaping, design, and neighbourhood planning to create communities that will appeal to home buyers and help to strengthen the housing market as a whole.

Towards Better Communities, 1950
W. Harold Clark, President, Community Planning Association
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The address of the president of the Community Planning Association to the 1950 annual conference sets planning in the postwar context, when the country’s priorities were still on military defence. Clark deplores the “identical strawberry boxes” (modest bungalows) being built in the suburbs and calls for more attention to be paid to the quality of life in new developments. He discusses the recently amended national housing legislation and the opportunities it offers for good planning, and advocates government subsidies for housing for low-income families, which he recognizes cannot be built at a profit by pri-vate developers. He also describes his experiences at the Twentieth International Con-gress for Housing, held in Amsterdam in September 1950, and his impressions of postwar reconstruction in the Netherlands.

Regent Park Housing Project: Canada's Premier Housing Redevelopment Project, 1951
The Housing Authority of Toronto
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for before and after photos on page 22, click here
for construction photo on p.24, click here
This 27 page brochure describes the development of Canada's first public housing community, Regent Park North. It refers to housing conditions in the area prior to redevelopment, the National Housing Act legislation of 1944, the City of Toronto's enabling legislation, the establishment of the Housing Authority of Toronto, and provides an overview of the details of the design, development, financing and problems encountered.

Housing Research in Canada, 1900-1952
James Gillies, Land Economics, August 1952
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In this journal article Gillies provides a history of the evolution of Canadian housing research in the first half of the twentieth century. "Housing research in Canada is conducted largely by government agencies -- academic or private research is practically non-existent. This is, perhaps, not surprising for two reasons: (1) Basic research in the housing field consists of the compilation of data for statistical series ... An independent investigator simply does not have the facilities to do such work. (2) There is not a strong tradition of academic research in Canada in the problems of housing."

Housing Administration in Canada, 1952
Albert Rose, Community Planning Asso-ciation of Canada
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In this article for the journal Canadian Welfare, Rose notes that “Canadians, and their elected repre-sentatives and appointed administra-tive officials, are probably less exper-ienced in the administration of public housing than the citizens of any other highly indus-trialized nation, because of our late entry into the field of public provision and admini-stration of housing.” Rose describes the difficulties of finding appropriate staff to work in the public housing sector, and recommends the positions and responsibilities of executive directors, housing managers, counsellors and accountants. He also deals with tenant selection, particularly the issue of segregation versus diversification, as well as tenant participation and responsi-bility, noting the lack of attention paid to “the role of the tenant of public housing as a person, as a citizen, and as a responsible par-ticipant in the administration of the project.”

Public Housing – Building Toward a
Great New Canada, 1965

Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada
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In this speech to the Ontario Association of Housing Authorities, Pearson warns against deadening uniformity in city planning and an overemphasis on utility and efficiency in housing. He argues for housing that will not only provide adequate shelter but allow for the expansion of the human spirit. He also stresses the importance of cooperation among the different levels of government and points out that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that housing programs achieve their goals, that national stan-dards are set and observed, and that the poorer provinces receive extra help to meet those standards. He mentions the current levels of federal assistance for housing and concludes with a strong statement about the importance of public housing in building a “great new Canada.”
Poverty in Canada, 1968

Economic Council of Canada
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In its fifth annual review, the Economic Council of Canada points out that the poor of Canada number in the millions and that the persistence of poverty in a country otherwise distinguished for the high standard of living available to most of its citizens, is a disgrace. The ECC notes that poverty is largely invisible to middle-class people and distinguishes poverty from low income, since students may live on low incomes without being perma-nently trapped in a hopeless existence. True poverty is characterized by poor health, bad housing, hopelessness and alienation from the rest of society. The article concludes with statistics on the extent of poverty and a discussion of some of the problems involved in defining poverty and poverty levels.

Poverty—A Major Issue Confronting Canada, 1969
Wilson A. Head, Director, Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto
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This text was prepared for a conference of the Liberal Party held in Harrison Hot Springs. Head, director of the Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto, defines poverty not only in economic terms, but in psychosocial terms, as a condition leading to despair, apathy, and alienation. He criticizes the existing welfare system as both inadequate and humiliating to those who depend on it, and points out that economic conditions whereby workers are displaced by technology have helped to perpetuate and increase poverty in Canada. He recommends a guaranteed annual income based on negative income tax for those below a certain income level. He adds that support programs must be developed in consultation with those who will use them and that the country must work to eliminate discrimination against poor people.

Report of the Task Force on Housing and Urban Development,1969
Paul T. Hellyer, M.P., Minister of Transport, Chair
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From page 1: "The Federal Task Force on Housing and Urban Development, appointed August 29, 1968, represented a new departure in inquiry-making. While sanctioned by Cabinet decision, it possessed none of the legal powers or formalities of a Royal Commission or other such investigative body. Its terms of reference were broad and informal -- 'to examine housing and urban development in Canada and to report on ways in which the federal government, in company with other levels of government and the private sector, can help meet the housing needs of all Canadians and contribute to the development of modern, vital cities.'"

Speech on Housing and Urban Affairs, 1972
Ron Basford, Minister of State for Urban Affairs
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In an excerpt from Hansard, the Minister of State for Urban Affairs describes the minis-try’s mandate: “to co-ordinate the activities of the government of Canada in estab-lishing co-operative relationships with the provinces and their municipalities for the enhancement of the human environment.” He makes a plea for greater cooperation among all levels of government in solving urban problems and describes the achievements of his ministry to date, including consultations with the provinces and many municipal governments and with Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation on new approaches to housing. Basford describes the Liberal government’s “colossal” housing programs—in 1971 alone, 233,000 new units were started and 200,000 completed—and attributes the activity to the National Housing Act of 1964, which spurred the creation of public housing.

Inquest into the Death of Drina Joubert, 1986
Verdict of Coroner’s Jury
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Drina Joubert was a homeless, alcoholic, and mentally ill woman who froze to death in an abandoned truck behind a house on Sherbourne Street in Toronto in December 1985. The coroner’s jury states that despite her attempts to seek help from practically every available social agency and hospital service in the city, she was unable to overcome her problems or find permanent housing. The jury finds that the bureaucracy designed to help people like Drina was unresponsive, inefficient, and inadequate. The report offers 20 recommendations directed to the Queen Street Mental Health Centre, hostels, drop-in centres, and the Addiction Research Foundation Detoxification Centre, as well as government departments responsible for housing. In particular, the jury cites the lack of affordable housing and supportive housing for those with mental health problems as an urgent priority for the city.

Finding Room: Housing Solutions for the Future, Chapter 2, “Ade-quate Shelter: A Fundamental Human Right,” 1990
National Liberal Caucus Task Force on Housing, Co-Chairs: Paul Martin, M.P. and Joe Fontana, M.P.
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This task force report contains the press release (titled “ ‘The Government Has Given Up On Housing’ – Liberal Task Force On Housing”), the table of contents of the report, and the text of chapter 2, Adequate Shelter: A Fundamental Human Right. Martin and Fontana state that the government has abandoned its responsibility for housing, even though the housing crisis is escalating. The report, which contains recommendations for action, reviews the history of housing considered as a fundamental human right, citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. The task force endorses the concept of housing as a human right and recommends that the issue of shelter rights be discussed at the next first ministers’ conference.

Planning, Zoning and
Urban Affairs

Housing, Poverty, Homelessness