Homelessness alliance likes city’s budget $14M will make difference, group says

OttawaCitizen.com – news
April 12, 2011.   By Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen

The Alliance to End Homelessness has been doing an annual report card for Ottawa for years, but chair Marion Wright says this year is different: “a time of hope.”

With one F and no mark above C+, this year’s report card doesn’t look so good on the surface.

There has been one solid gain, though, Wright said Monday in presenting the report: Ottawa had 334 new units of affordable housing in 2010, far better than the 88 units added a year earlier. Her target remains 1,000 new units a year.

The big news, she said, is in the city’s new budget, which promises $10 million in new investment to fight homelessness and poverty plus a further $4 million in capital funding.

“It’s going to be targeted funding to really focus on bringing some of the homelessness numbers down, and decreasing some of the effects of poverty,” she said.

Next, she said, the federal and Ontario governments should try to measure up to what Ottawa is doing.

The number of people who used temporary shelters last year -7,156 of them -was almost unchanged from the previous year. (The number of single men dropped slightly; the numbers of youth were up a bit). The Alliance’s goal is to cut the total number in shelters by 500 a year.

Rents remain prohibitively expensive for many people, even if they have an income, Wright said.

She says a person who relies on the Ontario Works program would have to spend an impossible 121 per cent of his or her take-home pay for a basic bachelor apartment in Ottawa. A person on the Ontario Disability Support Program would spend 69 per cent of that on a home.

Councillor Peter Hume said the main increase of $10 million is meant to give more financially-stretched people affordable housing without making them move into geared-to-income units.

“We’re going to people on our waiting list. If they’re housed now, they may receive a subsidy” to make existing rent more affordable.

“The working poor may be in a unit where 55 per cent or 60 per cent of their income is going toward housing,” Hume said. “What we would do is offer a shallow subsidy to that person so that he or she is spending 30 per cent of their income on housing.”

That would take the pressure off waiting lists for public housing, he said, “without building new buildings. Now we have to get the provincial government’s OK, but we don’t think that’s going to be a problem. The goal is to reduce that waiting list, to show concrete progress year over year, to say, look, the waiting list is done 1,000, down 2,000, down 3,000.”

The $4 million in new capital funding hasn’t been allocated, but Hume expects a large amount to go to Ottawa Community Housing for rehabilitating existing buildings.

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