Ottawa budgets $1.5-billion extension of rapid housing program, but stops short of changes cities wanted

·2 min read

The federal government is extending its billion-dollar rapid housing initiative, budgeting $1.5 billion to carry the program into next year — but Ottawa’s new fiscal plan stops short of promising the kind of rule changes that local officials had hoped to see.

The program, which funds modular housing projects and conversions of existing properties into affordable units, was originally designed as a one-time effort — so the extension unveiled in Monday’s budget was welcomed by municipal representatives.

But absent from the budget was the kind of rule rejig that several cities hoped to see.

In Peel Region, officials have said it doesn’t make sense to use modular construction for smaller projects. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) had asked Ottawa to allow non-modular construction, and there was desire in Toronto to be able to preserve rooming houses.

No such changes were outlined in the Liberals’ fiscal plan. It also doubled down on the program’s strict, 12-month deadlines, despite calls from some municipalities for more flexibility.

“We really believe it’s important to get some housing created quickly,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said, citing an urgent need to ramp up affordable housing.

Coun. Ana Bailao, Mayor John Tory’s affordable housing advocate, says she’s understands the urgency, but is still hopeful the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will hear out their concerns.

“Sometimes there’s a delay. You need to have that flexibility,” she said.

FCM president Garth Frizzell welcomed the $1.5 billion, but said for Ottawa to meet its goal of ending chronic homelessness, it would need to invest far more. “When you find a program that works really well, like rapid housing did in its first iteration, you take it and you double down.”

Among other housing proposals in Monday’s budget were a vacant home tax for non-Canadians and non-residents, a pilot project aimed at reducing veteran homelessness, and funds to transform empty commercial spaces into housing.

Victoria Gibson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star