Federal budget to set aside billions for affordable housing
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, March 17, 2017 2:28PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 17, 2017 5:25PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Cities desperate for affordable housing money from the federal government are expected to find out in Wednesday's budget that they will receive approximately half of the $22 billion in the Liberals' social infrastructure fund, The Canadian Press has learned.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had previously telegraphed to the mayors of the country's biggest cities that they would receive close to the $12.6 billion they felt was needed to address an affordable housing shortage countrywide.
Since then, municipal leaders and housing providers have privately revised their budgetary expectations down to around $11 billion.
Multiple sources speaking on condition of anonymity, so as to discuss private conversations about a budget that is not yet public, say the Liberals will unveil spending next week that falls around that mark, making affordable housing a key story line coming out of the Trudeau government's second budget.
Adding to the narrative is how the Liberals plans to get the money to cities, with the minister in charge eyeing some non-traditional ways of targeting the cash directly to municipalities so it meets the government's goals.
The minister in charge of the file declined to comment on the contents of the budget documents. Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government has already outlined an ambitious financial commitment to infrastructure.
The multi-year, multi-billion dollar funding for affordable housing will come out of the Liberals' social infrastructure fund that will be worth $21.9 billion over the next 10 years.
Municipal officials are expecting extra money for affordable housing could come from the Liberals' green infrastructure fund. The fund could help cities retrofit existing units to make them more energy efficient, while also reducing operating costs that squeeze some housing providers, said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.
"It may be possible to achieve multiple policy objectives at once working with the government between their environmental objectives and our social housing objectives," said Iveson, chairman of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities big city mayors' caucus.
Iveson said a significant investment in affordable housing could also have economic implications by creating well-paying construction jobs, reducing government spending on social services and helping new Canadians with their housing needs.
"We're looking for details on the amounts of money and the program criteria in next week's budget, but all indications are very positive," Iveson said.
Government officials have been telling housing providers for months that they were looking at creative ways to provide affordable housing funding, rather than send the money through the traditional affordable housing fund.
The move could see the government potentially bypass provinces through a dedicated fund or through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., in a bid to inject some new thinking and financing models into the sector.
Sources say the Liberals have become uneasy with how long some provinces are taking to identify housing projects that should receive federal funding made available through last year's budget. Large provinces like Ontario moved quickly moved to allocate the cash, but others appear to be slower than the Liberals would like.
The parliamentary budget watchdog has been critical of how few projects have been identified for funding through the social infrastructure fund, which set aside just over $1.48 billion for affordable housing in this fiscal year and the upcoming budget cycle.
There is expected to be a mix of traditional and non-traditional funding outlined in the budget.
More details on the measures will come out in the ensuing weeks when the government releases its national housing strategy. The strategy will aim to help people access affordable housing that meets their needs and look at everything from emergency shelters, to transition housing, to market units.
The plan will become the backbone of a larger anti-poverty plan that the Liberals plan to release later in their mandate.