Peel property taxes will have to go up unless Ottawa steps up to cover asylum seeker costs: councillor

Coun. Dipika Damerla says Peel Region property taxes will have to go up to cover costs to house asylum seekers unless Ottawa steps up. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC - image credit)
Coun. Dipika Damerla says Peel Region property taxes will have to go up to cover costs to house asylum seekers unless Ottawa steps up. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC - image credit)

As Toronto receives new federal money to shelter asylum seekers, Peel Region wants the same from Ottawa, with officials saying its shelter system is over capacity. Otherwise, regional council says, taxes will have to go up.

The federal government recently committed $143 million to help Toronto cover the cost of housing thousands of asylum seekers, which the city has been struggling to house for months.

Mississauga is dealing with the same issue, and on Thursday, council moved to ask Ottawa for $85 million.

"I don't understand why Mississauga and the region of Peel is being treated differently from Toronto," said Coun. Dipika Damerla, who represents Ward 7. "We are under the same pressure. Our shelter system is now at 400 per cent of capacity."

Without the money regional council has requested, Damerla says council will be forced to raise regional property taxes by six per cent. That's on top of the five per cent increase already passed for this year's budget, she said.

"That's clearly a no-go," Damerla said.

Feds facing pressure from cities

The federal government has faced months of criticism from cities saying they're struggling to deal with more and more newcomers. That pressure has resulted in financial aid, including the new money Toronto is receiving, which is part of $362 million top up to the federal Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP). That program came online last summer, with $212 million of funding.

Peel encampment
Peel encampment

Peel Region has been struggling to house an influx of asylum seekers. The region's shelter system has been over capacity for months, resulting in encampments like this one pictured in November. (CBC)

Peel Region submitted an IHAP request for $16.9 million last fall. The motion passed Thursday adds $68.4 million to that request, saying it's for "forecasted costs to support the settlement and integration of asylum seekers in Peel."

Damerla says the money would ultimately reimburse Peel Region for money spent on sheltering refugee claimants.

Ottawa says it's sharing costs

In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said IHAP is a cost-sharing program, which reimburses provinces and municipalities for a portion of their "expenses related to the provision of interim housing for asylum claimants."

"Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) remains in regular discussions with Peel Region with respect to their requests, and the scope of their expenses," the statement reads. "Amounts are determined based on those requests and the overall funding envelope for the program."

The federal government also announced last fall it would give Peel Region $7 million to open a new reception centre near Pearson International Airport for asylum seekers. That centre is still months away from opening.

Thursday's council motion asked the federal government to revamp IHAP, so municipalities don't compete for funding through applications, but are allocated funds based on a "formula-driven" process.

The motion also called for $9 million to reimburse Peel Region for its Ukrainian humanitarian response.