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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Solving Toronto's Homeless Problem

How many homeless people are living in Toronto?

What would we need to do to permanently solve Toronto's homeless problem?

Homelessness is much more common in large urban cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal. It is a constant presence and a symptom of a city's bloated real estate prices and the people who fall through the cracks of society.

In 2005 federal authorities in Ottawa estimated that Canada has 150,000 homeless people across the country - however homeless advocates say it is closer to 300,000. (And since 1 out of every 6 Canadians live in the GTA we can estimate that there is about 50,000 homeless people in the GTA.)

According to a 2007 report the annual cost of homelessness in Canada is approximately $6 billion in emergency services, community organizations, and non-profits.

Mathematically that means homelessness is costing governments approx. $20,000 per year per homeless person.

Also, contrary to stereotypes, only 6% of homeless people suffer from schizophrenia. Depression and affective disorders affect 20 to 40% of homeless people.

What is also interesting is that some of these homeless people do have jobs - but they sleep on the streets because they cannot afford to rent an apartment. They end up temporarily homeless, sometimes for months at a time, living on the streets until they can find a place they can afford. (There are national statistics for this on the StatsCan website, but I have been unable to find statistics just for Toronto.)

This tells us several things:

#1. Renting an apartment in Toronto is too expensive and there isn't enough low income housing in Toronto.

#2. There is a market for smaller apartments that are priced for people in a lower income bracket.

#3. There needs to a safety net for people who are "temporarily homeless" to help them find a new apartment quickly.

#4. For the 6% of homeless people (approx 3,000 people) who suffer from schizophrenia there needs to be a safety net to help get these people treatment.

So really what is needed is the following is...

Special places for the 3,000 schizophrenic homeless people in Toronto. This would require a significant investment in real estate and care services.

A government agency designed to help people who are temporarily homeless to find a new place quickly.

More subsidies for low income housing. Enough for approx. 47,000 people.

More new apartment buildings being designed with a portion of the apartments designed for lower income people. If every new apartment / condo building in Toronto was required to have just 1% of their units designed for lower income people we could solve this problem pretty quickly.

We should also note that the Canadian government USED TO have such measures in place. Back during the 1980s there was abundant support for instutions geared towards helping schizophrenic people, and the building of new structures for low income housing was dramatically higher - in 1986 alone the Canadian government supported the building of 30,000 new units - but over the years the numbers kept dropping, reaching a mere 7,000 in 1999.

So really supporting such measures would really be about going back to the ways things used to be done in the 1980s and earlier.

Now you might think "Hey, doesn't Toronto already have homeless shelters?"

Well, yes, we do. But homeless shelters are not a permanent solution - and their rife with crime, theft, sexual assaults, assaults, drug problems. Most women refuse to stay in homeless shelters because they're not considered safe. Even women-only shelters are dangerous.

Quotes about Homelessness in Toronto by social entrepreneur / activist Edward de Gale
"Canada is the second coldest country on earth and with a climate like Canada’s, energy, like food and housing is a necessity of life." - Edward de Gale.
"It is a little known fact that the inability to pay basic utilities/energy is the second leading economic cause of homelessness in this country." - Edward de Gale.
"Over 50,000 households a year have their power disconnected in Ontario while thousands of others struggle to provide the necessary energy to stay warm and cook meals. That’s one household with their power cut every 10 minutes, every hour, of every day, for a year." - Edward de Gale.
"Many Ontario households must choose between eating and heating, and seniors and those with special needs must choose between medication and heating." - Edward de Gale.
"Families, with minor children, unable to provide basic utilities/energy for their children are vulnerable to child protection orders because they are unable to provide the necessities of life." - Edward de Gale.

Edward de Gale is the executive director of "Share the Warmth", a local Toronto charity dedicated towards helping homeless people and getting them off the street. He founded the charity in 1995 and by 2002 it had grown to help 4 million people in 400 communities across Ontario. 18 years later it is still growing strong. [Source: Edward de Gale wins 2002 City of Toronto Community Service Volunteer Award.]

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Future of Montreal Condos

Regardless of the ups and downs in the condo market, what is really interesting is the long term results of condo developments in metropolitan Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Montreal in particular because of the city is located on islands in the St Lawrence River, which means people living there can't really expand outwards so much - and opens the door to rampant upwards development.

According to Statistics Canada the population of Montreal will reach 4.541 million by 2031 if population growth is low. But it could reach 5.275 million if population growth is high. (Statistics Canada has 3 working models for predicting population growth in Canada, providing a range of forecasts.)

The current population is 3.9 million in the Greater Montreal Area.

This means StatsCan is predicting growth of approx. 600,000 to 1.4 million in the space of 18 years.

Other Canadian metropolitan cities are expected to experience similar growth, which will result in more expansion of suburbs.

But in Montreal, because the city is an island their ideal direction is not outwards, but upwards. Which means new condo developments need to start thinking how they can accommodate a lot more people... which employs using new architectural technology in order to make buildings stronger, more affordable and more energy efficient.

The energy issue will also be a big thing by 2031. Electricity prices are expected to skyrocket in the next 18 years so having more energy efficient buildings will save on heating and air conditioning.

One way would be to make buildings more like greenhouses, so their internal temperature is regulated by the sun in the winter and during summer months. There are a myriad other advances in energy efficient windows, as demonstrated by the image on the right. Another way is windows that can be electronically tinted to reflect more sunlight to change the refraction rate.

More energy savings can also be gained by using basic geothermal for heating and cooling the building.

Construction costs can be reduced by using new materials, prefabrication in factories (which also raises quality of the construction work), and maintenance costs can be reduced by designing buildings which require very little maintenance.

These cost savings will be more important for people looking to buy a Montreal condo because the overall higher costs of living in the future will cause people to be more frugal with their money. People will want to buy a place that will save them money over the long term and get them great value for their investment.

Montreal also benefits from the fact that at its lowest point it is currently about 100 feet above sea level. When arctic and antarctic ice caps melt within the next 12 years Montreal will be UNAFFECTED by the rise in sea level because the resulting rise in sea level will only be 28 meters (92 feet), which will leave Montreal high and dry by a good 8 feet while Halifax, St John's and many coastal towns in the Maritimes will be flooded.

Which means there will be even greater stress on housing availability as Montreal and similar cities will be swamped by people looking for new places to live as their own homes have been flooded. The result will be people looking for new accommodations and an abundance of cheap labour.

This means that long term investment in Montreal's real estate is a really wise decision. Its guaranteed to go up thanks to the constant population growth, but there is also the chance of prices skyrocketing when the Maritimes is flooded before 2025.

Ignoring doom and gloom predictions for the Maritimes, in contrast Montreal's future is very sunny. It has a stable economy, is always hiring new graduates from its many universities, it is a tourism destination, and it has a well rounded transportation system.

It makes me wish I lived in Montreal instead of Toronto.

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