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The first interview of the Mayor to an Ethnic Press Media
The mayor of Toronto gave an interview to the Greek Press and emphasized that the debt she inherited was unrealistic. She has established communication channels with the federal and provincial government to address the city's problems and that things for the city will finally fall in place. There were many questions that had been prepared. However, due to time constraints, I could not ask them all. The most serious ones were raised.

Madame Mayor, you have embarked on a historic journey; as a journalist of an ethnic newspaper, I feel a certain sense of legitimacy in asking you what some may not ask. Your journey is no doubt an inspiration to women and particularly women of ethnic backgrounds: how does it feel to be the third woman mayor and the first woman mayor from a visible minority?
It’s an honor to be here as the first racialized woman with a different perspective. I’m am a working class immigrant kid. Which is why I will not go an borrow money in honor to pay our way. As you know, we just passed the budget but in the past we were always emptying out our reserves borrowing more money but for me it is important that if we need to buy something, that we need the service, we pay, rather than we pay later.

What you say now exposes previous City Hall leaderships.
Well, that is why I have a 1,8 billion dollars budget deficit. I inherited that. As soon as I came in and I saw the deficit I said “WOW! Look at all the money that is missing!”

And where was all that money going?
Well, before I came in, we didn’t pay all the way because of the pandemic. That is one of the miss outs. The other miss out was that you have to pay. You have to pay services. If not, you borrow more money or you just take money out from the reserves. If you take money out of the reserves then what will happen if you have an emergency and you have no money left?
As an immigrant kid I have a different perspective. For me it is important that we save up some money. My mom and dad always did that. They saved up a bit of money so when things were not always 100% smooth and we needed it, we always had something to rely on.

You are a progressive politician, a progressive mayor that most see as being on the left of centre of the political spectrum. At the same time, you seem to have developed a respectful and cordial relationship with the conservative Premier of this province. How difficult is it to develop a working relationship with other levels of government who don’t share your political ideology?
That’s a very good question. Because I have been a Member of Parliament, I have served as a City Councilor for a very long time and I have decades of experience in any political office, one of those things I have learned for those years is that you finally come up by finding a common ground. Then is when we can accomplish something together. So my approach to Premier Ford or Prime Minister Trudeau has always been “Let’s look at what we want to accomplish together!” They may have different ways of getting there but let’s find that common ground and develop a good working relationship. Which is what I did. That would be subtle for the new deal for the city and uploading the Gardiner and the DVP, meaning that they are now in charge of those two highways, which at the end means that we have a bit more money to spend for the city. With the federal government, they have come in and they have said “We will cover the cost of sheltering refugees” because refugees claimants are really a federal responsibility.

True, but that is another huge discussion. I will overcome it and go to the subject of homelessness. What will we do?
Thirty years we have not built affordable housing. The federal government, the provincial government and municipal government have not built affordable housing. We have a housing crisis. The rent pricing is very high. It is extremely hard to buy a home. In the 60s and 70s you worked hard, you earned a living, you saved up and you were probably able to buy by putting down a downpayment on a small place. Right? And now? It is very very difficult. It makes life very hard for people that don’t have a house. Especially for renters it is very very difficult. So, what we need to do is to build more affordable housing and build a lot faster which is why I have a plan to have 65.000 rent housing, rent controlled, so that we give the market a lot more supply. That being said, it connects with your homelessness question. Right now we have over 10.000 people in city shelters because they got evicted. They don’t have enough money to pay the rent, or they got laid off, or they got sick and then they stopped earning money. And guess what. They don’t have any money. They get evicted and they end up on the street. From there they end up in city shelters. So, about 5500 people are homeless and many of them are families and some of them are seniors, and some are even single people. Then we have another 6000 that are refugees. Refugees from different countries seeking asylum. We are sheltering people who do not have a home expense.

I’m overcoming two basic questions which would had brought us here but as you came up with it, Vienna has a Social Housing Program which is a model for other cities. Are you familiar with it and if yes, is Toronto able to apply that model here?
Yes. Yes, I am familiar with it. A program that decreases homelessness. We would love to have it but rent control belongs to the Provincial Government. Not us. Any apartments that are built after 2018 have no rent control. Meaning, all the new homes that are being build, unless they are built by the city, have no rent control. When we build them there is rent control because we have the say. But if the private sector goes and build it, as right now, it has no rent control. So, they can charge a lot. That is provincial. The Ford’s government. We don’t have the power to do that.

I didn’t know that and that is why I questioned you.
That was a very good question. The city delivers public transit for an example. Continuing on TTC, this year there will be no fair increase because for me, a lot of immigrants, a lot of women, a lot of working class folks and young people use the TTC. Last year they had a fair increase and transportation services got cut. But for this year, under me as the new Mayor, there will be no fair increase and better TTC services.
So, we are building a lot more housing. We are doing better public transit. Better roads and we are fixing also very basic things. More libraries services. More community centers. More arts and cultural programs and food for kids. In Europe children have good food in school. In Canada we don’t have a food program. In Toronto, we feed 220.000 kids. That’s very important!

That is one of the very first things I saw since I came back to Canada.
Yes, yes, yes. I created that program many years ago when I was a city councilor. I am investing more money in it because the price of food has gone up and in order to have good food, nutritious food, we are paying more so our children will grow up stronger and healthier.

Can you comment on the apparent reversal of your decision not to cut the police budget? Your initial position suggested more money for social programs to keep young people off the streets and out of jail. Does the police budget really need to compete with funding social programs?
Do you know why initially I didn’t want to give the police the 12 million they wanted?
12 million for the police is 1% of their budget. Their budget is 1.2 billion dollars. Whereas 12 million dollars is a lot of money for libraries, for youth programs, for all those social programs. Instead, I am investing in social programs to talk about kids, food, recreation programs, for young people to keep them engaged, to learn sports, to learn arts, to develop skills. But in terms of the police we had the federal and the provincial government agreeing to share the cost. Now that I have more funds from the senior governments I can give to the police what they want. And that is why the police got the funding they were asking for.
Now, having said that, this year the police got 60 million more but they said they additionally need 12 million. Finally, this year they got 72 million, 72.6 million to be precise, and that is on top of their 1.2 billion budget. It is a whole a lot of money. Just imagine that for every 5$ that you pay on your property tax, 1% dollar goes to the police. That is a lot of money.
With all that money, we are asking the police to tell us if they can lower their response time because they are saying they have a long time response. 22 minutes they say. We now give you every dollar that you want. How do you lower that response time? What is the target? When will you lower the response time? Can we see more officers out on the streets? When will we see that? What about neighborhood policing? Talk to the neighborhood. Talk to the local shop owners because, as they say, people break in, they steel things. How do we do of it and show us the results of our investment.

Going back to housing, I have one more last question. We’re hearing more and more that single family units are being bought by investors and speculators that are treating single family housing as a commodity. The term financialization is being used more and more to describe this previously unseen phenomenon. Some mortgage lenders are reporting that as much as 80% or more of new high-rise condo units are being speculated for short-term capital gains, and that this level of speculation has created hyper demand, and competition for families looking for a home. Do you see this trend as a continuing threat to affordable housing and what if anything can the city do about it?
Let me tell you what I will do with that. That is a very good question. I’ve been meeting with CEO’s of financial institutions to say that a lot of people are house rich and cash poor. But they live in a big house. The children have moved out. The grand kids have moved out, although they come visit from time to time. Wouldn’t it be great if we could allow them to convert a house into a building to go higher and have more units? Separate units to get some rental income. Then the seniors would be able to live in their own homes and bring their care-givers, etc. They would have a lot more cash. If they could subdivide their homes into two or three units they could rent it out. To get some good money. But they won’t have the initial money to do that. At this point the question is, how do we help home owners to build more housing so they can get some cash. That is one thing I am working on. We want to allow more people to earn more money from their homes. The second thing we are working on are the speculators that come in, buy out and keep it vacant. They buy out the house. Buy out the apartments, they kick out tenants, they keep it vacant and then they speculate. We are charging them more. Now though, we charge them more with vacancy tax and take that money for the city so we can go and build some affordable housing for seniors.
The third thing we are doing is for the foreign buyers. We brought in a tax for those who are here to invest and they buy a house they pay extra. It is the foreign buyers tax that the province is already doing. We, as the city of Toronto, want a share of that so it can make harder for them to speculate.
All we want to do is help the existing home owners to get more money for their own homes. We want to provide ways to stop speculators to buy up all the land and thirdly, if they are foreign home owners we take and increase the city’s reserves.
One other thing is that we are seeing people buying out buildings and they renovate it or they demolish it and they evict the tenants. We have put aside 100 million dollars to help the tenants to buy the building and turn them into co-operatives.
I love co-operatives! You know why? Because then the tenants can own their own building and they can live there in a most secure way without having to worry about the rent going up.
Do you have any idea or thoughts for reviving the “Taste of the Danforth”?
I am in contact with Mary Fragedakis about that. She has told me that one of the problems is the amount of money the police is asking. We have put 100 million aside to help the Tastes with policing.

February 16, 2024
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