Broken promises on affordable housing
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Eight months after Ottawa promised to work with the provinces to fund an ambitious affordable housing initiative, we’re still waiting for action.
Nov 18 2013. By: Michael Shapcott
What if someone promises to do something important, then not only does not do it, but fails even to talk to you about it?
In its March budget, the federal government committed to renew its Investment in Affordable Housing Program at $253 million per year over five years to be matched by provincial and territorial governments, bringing the annual total for new social and affordable housing to $506 million.
Eight months later, we’re still waiting for an announcement that any province or territory has negotiated a funding agreement with Ottawa for money that is supposed to start flowing on April 1, 2014.
In March, when the federal government made its promise, there was a record-breaking 87,892 households on Toronto’s affordable housing wait list. The wait list has continued to set new records since then.
As of September, the Toronto wait list set yet another record of 90,157 households. That includes 165,977 women, men and children. And it’s not just Toronto. Right across Canada, in urban, rural, remote and northern communities, there is an acute shortage of affordable housing.
Three months after the federal budget commitment, provincial and territorial housing ministers meeting in Toronto issued an invitation to their federal counterpart to meet as soon as possible to get the funding flowing for new social and affordable housing. No meeting has been scheduled.
Four months after the federal commitment, Canada’s premiers meeting at the Council of the Federation issued a strong call to Ottawa to come to the table on new social and affordable housing. The premiers called on Ottawa to “work with ministers of housing on a long-term federal funding commitment for housing.”
More recently, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), which represents thousands of local governments, launched a national campaign under the leadership of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson called “Fixing Canada’s Housing Crunch” to mobilize all orders of government to focus on Canada’s nation-wide affordable housing crisis. Closer to home, the City of Toronto is running a complementary campaign called “Close the Housing Gap.”
As part of its national campaign, the FCM released a survey showing 71 per cent of Canadians want a national long-term housing plan, 73 per cent want an increased focus on ending homelessness and 66 per cent want the federal government to increase funding for affordable and social housing.
The FCM survey is the latest in a series of polls and consultations, including the public response to Toronto’s Core Services Review two years ago, that consistently report Canadians want governments to work together to take action on housing and homelessness, and they want an increased financial commitment from governments.
Seven months after the federal budget, the latest session of Parliament opened with a Speech from the Throne. While there was mention of funding for homelessness there was no word, not a whisper, about the status of negotiations on the affordable housing.
With winter approaching and a nation-wide affordable housing crisis that remains deep and persistent, the lack of action by our federal, provincial and territorial governments in allocating the funding promised almost eight months ago is frustrating and perplexing.
Most housing experts understand that the money designated under the renewed Investment in Affordable Housing Program is only a fraction of the amount needed for a comprehensive national housing plan. Many put the annual investment required at $2 billion from the federal government, with matching amounts from other levels of government.
But the funding is a reasonable down payment and will spur communities and affordable housing developers to create a significant number of desperately needed social and affordable homes.
The good news is that there are smart and capable affordable housing developers across the country who can ensure available funds are immediately invested in good and cost-effective housing.
The bad news is that the delay by governments is stalling the action that needs to be taken to address the housing crisis throughout the nation.
Michael Shapcott is Director of Housing and Innovation at the Wellesley Institute, a research and policy institute dedicated to advancing population health.
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