Province streamlines social housing strategy

KenoraDailyMinerandNews.com – News
Posted December 1, 2010.   By By Mike Aiken

Queen’s Park made a long-awaited announcement Monday as it moved to streamline social housing.

“Ontarians spoke and our government listened,” said Housing Minister Rick Bartolucci.

“Ontario families deserve a better housing system. This strategy is focused on the needs of families and, by working together with our partners, we will finally have the tools necessary to respond to the unique needs of communities across this province,” he said.

The minister was joined by his cabinet colleague, Laurel Broten, who is responsible for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

“It is essential that Ontario families have a safe, affordable place to call home,” she said. “Through initiatives like the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, our government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is helping break the cycle of poverty.”

For many years, the local resources have been scattered and fragmented, making it difficult to complete long-term, expensive projects.

“This strategy articulates the province’s recognition of the importance of strong partnership and collaboration with municipalities in the area of housing. We look forward to continuing to work with the province on all the elements that will make this strategy – including the groundbreaking move to begin to consolidate housing and homelessness programs, so as to better serve Ontarians – a success,” said David Rennie, the president of the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association.

Local reaction, though, wasn’t as enthusiastic.

“Our housing programs are so disjointed that it takes a lot of energy to ferret out what anything means,” said Nan Normand, co-chairman of Making Kenora Home.

While the provincial share of affordable housing capital spending was $347 million this year, it was part of a federal-provincial matching program, which will expire in March 2011.

“There’s no promise of any new investment in building affordable housing. In addition, the district services board has complained that operational funding is inadequate, and that is grounded in fact. The provincial share of affordable housing operating funding was $169 million in the last fiscal year, which is down 14 per cent from 2003. The impact of inflation over the last seven years decreases the funding value even more,” Normand added.

“Consolidating the homelessness and housing initiatives is an important step forward because there are more than 20 provincial programs scattered across multiple provincial ministries with a combined value of $430 million. Coordination is crucial,” said Normand. “As we have said for several years, coordination must come down to the local level.

“We are already ahead of the game because we have done our community consultation that is proposed at a municipal level but — and this is the but we have been butting against for five years — the local stakeholders must have access to a variety of provincially mandated tools and funding. If this funding doesn’t exist no one will be able to move past the planning stage. Good intentions don’t build houses. Good intentions with commitment will.”

The community has lost more than 100 affordable housing units in the last five years, but hasn’t added any new social housing units in 20 years. The district services board is hoping to add as many as 20 new units within five years to meet the demand in the city, through partnerships with existing agencies, including aboriginal organizations.

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