Winnipeg's affordable housing effort understaffed

·3 min read

The public servant leading the City of Winnipeg's affordable housing work says he is short-staffed.

Urban planner Noah Yauk, the city's Housing Policy and Neighbourhood Revitalization Coordinator, appeared by video at an October 13 meeting of the standing policy committee on property and development, heritage and downtown development to answer questions about affordable housing results.

Yauk described additional work he has been saddled with after the city began administering grants under the federal Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI)—$25.3 million for 8 projects to create more than 130 affordable housing units for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Winnipeg. Two of the projects are in the West End and one is in West Broadway.

"One thing I would comment is that it hasn't come with any additional staffing resources," Yauk told the committee.

"It's tough, because there's a lot of things that we're trying to work on and there isn't a lot of resources. There has been resource gaps over the last while."

Committee chair Coun. Cindy Gilroy told The Leaf she agrees the planning department does not have enough staff to administer the RHI. She says affordable housing developers, especially non-profits, rely on Yauk to guide them as they navigate project requirements.

"The city should be hiring another planner," said Gilroy.

She said the city is looking at ways to increase staff in the planning department and she has asked the provincial and federal governments to put up funds for affordable housing project administration.

"I just want staff working on actual affordable housing projects so we can get them out the door."

A 2021 report titled Staffing the Crisis: The Capacity of Eleven Municipal Housing Departments Across Canada, funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, revealed that Winnipeg has just one full-time person dedicated to the creation of affordable rental housing, putting it near the bottom of municipalities surveyed. In comparison, Edmonton has 20, Calgary has 14 and Regina has two. The city confirmed to The Leaf that Yauk was the single full-time person referenced in the report.

Report author Stefan Hodges, a graduate student in the department of Geography, Planning and the Environment at Concordia University, says staffing shortages can undermine affordable housing efforts.

"When we talk about housing policy we often don't really think about the key importance of staffing and how much that really enables or limits a city's ability to really leverage development," said Hodges, who has worked as a housing coordinator and a tenant organizer in West Broadway.

He says developers considering affordable housing as part of a project might choose a different path if they know the process is likely to add delays.

"One thing that really came from the report was the importance of being able to actually staff all these programs that you have in place...because otherwise it's not going to really happen."

A spokesperson for Families Minister Rochelle Squires said that, as RHI is a federal program, the city should look to the federal government for staffing assistance.

A request for comment from Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen brought a response from a CMHC spokesperson saying staff salaries are not an eligible RHI expense.

Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf

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