Social housing crisis

Half of Ontario’s public sector will retire by 2020

Ontario’s social housing sector needs to promote itself as a viable career from a financial, career development and social responsibility point of view if it wants to attract young workers and survive the wave of baby boomer retirements, according to the chairman of the Social Housing Services Corporation in Toronto.

“You have a generation of younger people coming into the workforce who are not going to be slavishly dedicated to a job that doesn’t pay reasonably well, that doesn’t give them career development opportunities, that does not provide them with work-life balance,” said Gordon Chong. “We’re going to have a generation that wants to do good, but it also wants to have a balance with their leisure and personal life.”

Only 12 per cent of Ontario public-sector employees are under 30, compared to 29 per cent of Ontario’s workforce as a whole, according to the 2004 provincial auditor’s report Human Resource Renewal. The report also stated that about one-half of employees working in the public sector will be eligible to retire by 2020.

“This will become a crisis in the next five to 10 years if we don’t proactively do something about it,” said Chong. “People have been focused on the bricks and mortar problems in social housing, but equally important is going to be the diminishing and retiring workforce and the inability to get people into that field.”

The next generation of workers are looking for work-life balance, career development, good salaries and the chance to make a difference, said Chong. But the social housing sector can’t rely on altruism as its only selling point any longer.

“Social conscience doesn’t pay the bills,” he said.

One way of attracting younger people into the sector is to change the sector’s image as a dead-end job and begin promoting careers in social housing to students at the secondary and post-secondary levels, said Chong. There are a wide range of careers available, from property manager of a small development up to an executive position, he said.

Another important step to attract new people to the field is to professionalize it and set up an accreditation process similar to the one provided by the Chartered Institute of Housing in the United Kingdom, said Chong.

To do so, the sector needs to partner with colleges and universities to offer courses in urban studies, social housing policy and neighbourhood renewal, like there is in the U.K., said Duncan Maclennan, professor at the University of Ottawa’s institute of governance.

This is beginning to happen in Canada. The University of Ottawa is introducing courses in housing policy and neighbourhood renewal next spring for current students and professionals looking to upgrade their knowledge, said Maclennan.

However, without the political will to support social housing, very little change can occur, he said. In the U.K., new Prime Minister Gordon Brown said affordable housing is one of his three key priorities. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been the same kind of political support in Canada, said Maclennan. And without political support, there’s no financial support.

“The flow of funds into social housing (in Ontario) has almost entirely dried up,” said Maclennan.

To bring back that political support, the sector needs to argue that a vibrant social housing sector has an economic benefit for the city as a whole, said Maclennan.

“It keeps making an old argument, which is there’s lots of poor people and social justice requires you to do more to address their needs. It’s not an unimportant argument, but it’s not the only argument,” said Maclennan.

Latest stories