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Trudeau visits with housing on mind

The Canadian Housing Accelerator Fund has arrived in Thunder Bay and was personally delivered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Smart Modular Canada on Thursday. Trudeau said the investment of $20.7 million in Thunder Bay will allow the area to grow faster, build more homes and be better able to support opportunities ahead. The funds aim to fast-track the construction of more than 600 new housing units in the next three years and more than 6,500 homes over the next decade. "There is no "one simple solution" to solve housing challenges, so we're doing a whole bunch of different things," Trudeau said. "We've got various programs from the rapid housing initiative that supports the most vulnerable. We moved forward on lifting the GST off of purpose-built apartment buildings so that the math makes more sense to build more middle-income rental properties across the country." He said they are moving forward with projects on affordable housing and support, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor) for smart modular homes, which help make more affordable homes in remote areas. Talks with municipalities across the country to identify barriers to building more homes faster resulted in the Housing Accelerator program. "And that's where we roll up our sleeves and work with municipalities across the country that are willing to be ambitious about changing the way housing is made in this country," the prime minister said. With the funding, more housing options will be created in the city, including more multi-unit and affordable housing projects, with up to four homes per lot. The City of Thunder Bay can turn vacant and underused downtown property into new housing units near transit, schools and parks. The city will be able to re-zone commercial areas, fast-track development approvals, and put incentives and grants in place to get more housing projects off the ground. A dedicated team that will suggest systemic changes and work with community organizations, advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, and home builders to reduce construction costs will be assembled by the city. "This is not about a single new project," Trudeau said. "It's about an approach to building housing across the country that will unlock thousands, more than 650,000 new homes, across this country over the coming years by the housing accelerator investments." Bill Boulton, president and chief executive officer of Smart Modular Canada, was thrilled to host the prime minister in his business for the announcement. "It's quite an honour," Boulton said. ". . . . We're trying our best to help the housing (issue) out and trying to learn to build houses in a different way that are more affordable." From buying from other manufacturers, to opening his shop, to expanding into 20,000 square feet and then 76,000 square feet in the last 17 years, Boulton says they are finding themselves tight on space. He credits his team of 43 people that he says "have been pulling this wagon along." Ahmad Alhmade, an employee at the facility and a newcomer to Canada from Syria four years ago, said it was interesting for him and his coworkers to have a personal visit from Trudeau. "We are happy to see him (and hear his) good news to support housing," he said. "We are newcomers here, and rent, groceries or buying a house is so hard."

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal