Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

The City of Ottawa increases budget for affordable housing, but needs help

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Capital spending is not ambitious enough , according to some speakers. (Archive photo)

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The City of Ottawa will spend nearly 50 per cent more to build new affordable housing next year, but that budget increase won't necessarily translate into more units on the market , because it will need help from the federal and provincial governments.

It has been two and a half years since city staff released its long-term financial plan for housing, which included a $15 million municipal contribution and a plan to work with other levels of government to build at least 500 affordable homes per year. But it didn't take long for this plan to prove unachievable.

Ottawa did not achieve its goal annual in 2021 or 2022, having been unable to obtain the external financing that the Municipality needed. The City increased spending by $1 million this year, but funding from other levels of government still hasn't kept up.

With inflation, the amounts devoted to housing no longer have the same scope, explained to elected officials the deputy municipal treasurer, Isabelle Jasmine, during the meeting of the Planning and Housing Committee this week.

Some of the key financial assumptions that have changed since 2021 include the cost of construction, which has increased 25% to 35% since 2021, she said .

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ELSE ON NEWS: Quebec entrepreneur Daniel Langlois found dead in the Caribbean< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Inflation also reduced the City's borrowing capacity by 22%, increasing the necessary cash contribution amount. The new tax on vacant housing simply made it possible to offset the deficits, she noted.

Several municipal councilors argued that for convincing other levels of government to commit more money, it was necessary to further increase the Municipality's contribution to obtain leverage – an idea which does not enthuse municipal staff in the finance department .

Next year, the city plans to spend $23.8 million, but for this plan to have the desired impact, it also relies on equal contributions from the province and the federal government.

The 12 committee members submitted their budget to the city council for Wednesday's meeting. Two councilors, however, disagreed on the part regarding affordable housing funding: Somerset councilor Ariel Troster and Beacon Hill-Cyrville councilor Tim Tierney.

Ms. Troster wanted to introduce a motion to increase spending for 2024 from $23.8 million to $30 million. She ultimately chose to abstain.

For me, a clear doubling of the commitment made in the initial long-term financial plan demonstrates a higher level of ambition than the City has ever done, she shared.

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Ottawa city councilors Ariel Troster, Jeff Leiper and Riley Brockington (File photo) total of $370 million, but not yet funded.

My goal is to ensure that each of these housing units is funded during this legislature. This would address the scale of the crisis we are facing.

Ms. Troster made a point previously made by several speakers in terms of housing, namely that a stronger commitment could push the federal government to accede to the City's request to obtain sums from the federal fund to accelerate the construction of housing.

Speakers who work with low-income tenants and shelter users applauded the city's decision to increase its annual spending on affordable housing investment projects, but urged councilors to do so. even more.

“I think it's an incredibly positive thing that we've seen today,” Kaite, executive director of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in Ottawa, said in an interview. Burkholder Harris. But I would like the city council to be even more ambitious, because we have no more time to waste.

Ms. Burkholder Harris emphasized that #x27;other problems related to the construction market, including the lack of skilled labor.

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Kaite Burkholder Harris, Executive Director Canadian Alliance to end homelessness in Ottawa

Cities across the province are scrambling to cope with legislative changes that force them to speed up approvals for housing construction while receiving less money from development charges.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">But she also stressed that for a rare time, all levels of government share the same priority.

We have an opportunity. Let's not just plan for the crisis, but let's look ahead and ask ourselves where we want to be in five years, she said.

Burkholder Harris shocked many advisers when she presented a new study by housing expert Steve Pomeroy, which suggests that affordable housing is disappearing from the market faster than #x27;they are not built.

According to Pomeroy, for every new apartment put on the market between 2011 and 2021, Ottawa lost 31 units priced below $1,000 per month. This includes rentals that have been demolished or renovated, moved to the short-term rental market, or simply relisted at a higher price.

Ottawa Mission Executive Director Peter Tilley painted a picture of how the lack of affordable housing is adding unprecedented pressure on shelters.

We have 25 to 30 people a night, sometimes more in the waiting area, sometimes waiting six or seven days for a mattress or a bed… We've never been also busy, he told CBC.

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The President and CEO of the Ottawa Mission, Peter Tilley (File photo)

Lacking a place to curl up, many resort to sleeping in folding chairs.

The proposed funding increase is enormous, recognized Mr. Tilley, but according to him, it is not so much the City which is at fault as the other levels of government and in particular the federal government which does not have a plan for many people who depend on the Mission and in particular asylum seekers, he shared.

So it's up to all of us to take over.

The President of the Planning and Housing Committee, Jeff Leiper, explained that he was tempted to ask for more funds for affordable housing. But he is confident that city staff have already used all possible financial resources to direct them toward solving this problem.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe agrees.

Ottawa's population is growing very, very quickly and I think the whole conversation around housing has changed, he reacted outside his office. We face pressures, but I think we have solutions.

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Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe (File photo )

Since taking office, Mr. Sutcliffe has understood that building relationships with other levels of government is the key. one of its most important tasks.

We cannot act alone. We need our partners in the federal and provincial governments, he said, and we have had many conversations with the federal government in particular.

With information fromElyse Skura,ofCBC News

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