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Promising $15B to build more apartments, Trudeau says it's 'not fair' many young people can't afford a place to live


Continuing his pre-budget spending pledge tour, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising a $15-billion top-up as well as reforms to "turbocharge" an existing federal apartment construction loan program.

Related to this loan offering, Trudeau says the federal government also plans to launch a new "Canada Builds" initiative to help build more rental housing across Canada.

Styled after the "BC Builds" program, the aim is to allow provinces and territories to access federal loans to "launch their own ambitious housing plans," including developing more low- and high-rise apartments that middle class Canadians can afford.

Similar to other new federal housing spending commitments, access will be dependent on meeting all of the program's criteria, as well as a series of additional benchmarks.

In order to tap into this funding, provinces and territories will have to commit to spending their own money on housing, plan to build on government and vacant lands, and cut development approval timelines to no longer than 12 to 18 months.

The aim, Trudeau said Wednesday, is to help make it so more people can live where they work, something Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said is a pressing challenge for her city as they try to hire more first responders, care workers and nurses.

However, Ontario Premier Doug Ford doubled down on Wednesday that his government won't be signing on to any federal funding deal that requires building more fourplexes.

"It's not up to the province to dictate where every single building is going to be," Ford told reporters in Vaughan on Wednesday. "I believe in letting municipalities determine what is good for their communities."

Amid pushback from Ford and other provinces to his strings-attached approach, the prime minister said Wednesday that while it would be "easier" to send the money province-wide, the federal Liberals are happy to work with specific municipalities if their provincial leadership isn't willing to play ball. 

"It's not fair that young people who have a good job, can't afford a place to live, and can't even imagine being able to buy a home one day. That's what we're trying to change around," Trudeau said at the Toronto announcement. 

The $15-billion loan top-up to what will now be a $55-billion fund providing low-cost financing to homebuilders will help finance the program's aim of constructing of more than 131,000 new apartments within the next decade.

The federal government also plans to reform the program with the intention of increasing access and making it easier for builders to get shovels in the ground.

This will include extending loan terms, widening financing access to include housing for students and seniors, and allowing builders to move ahead with multiple construction sites at once.

According to a release from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Liberals will also launch a new "frequent builder stream" to speed up application times for "proven home builders."

Since its launch in 2017, the government says this apartment construction loan program has allocated more than $18 billion to help build more than 48,000 new rental homes.

"It's not just low-cost financing to build a building that would otherwise be constructed. We get something in exchange for providing this low-cost financing," Housing Minister Sean Fraser said, speaking alongside Trudeau.

"Builders who use the apartment construction loan program commit to certain affordability requirements to ensure that a proportion of the units are actually accessible to people who are earning the median income in a given housing market." 

Trudeau and his cabinet have been holding daily press conferences teasing out pieces of the upcoming 2024 federal budget, which will be tabled on April 16.

So far, the budget announcements have leaned into housing as a priority—specifically "building more homes, faster"— as the Liberals try to target younger voters.

According to the 2021 census, Canadians under the age of 26 are more likely to rent than own their homes, and spend more of their paycheque on shelter than older Canadians. 

Ahead of Wednesday's press conference, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's office sent out a series of statistics about Canada's housing crisis, framing the ongoing budget press tour as "photo ops" that won't build more homes.

Among the metrics cited by the federal Conservatives was a new RBC housing affordability report that indicated median-income earning households would need to spend 63.5 per cent of their income to cover the costs of owning an average home.

In 2015, the same measure required 39.3 per cent of income.

"After eight years of Trudeau, the average price of a home in Toronto is now over a million dollars and the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment has more than doubled to over $3,200 a month," said Conservative MP and housing critic Scott Aitchison.

"Justin Trudeau’s response has been to re-announce a failed loan program which has only resulted in the completion of 11,000 homes over the course of seven years."

The federal NDP was also less than impressed.

"Trudeau's out-of-touch housing strategy is dominated by loans to for-profit developers that don't help Canadians who need homes they can afford. Today, the Liberals announced $15 billion for a program where 97 per cent of the units produced are not affordable," said NDP MP and housing critic Jenny Kwan. 

In an interview on Tuesday touting that day's announcement — the launch of a new $6-billion "Canada Housing Infrastructure Fund" — Fraser conceded that "it may be the better part of a decade" before Canadians start seeing housing affordability return to levels comparable to those experienced by past generations. 

With files from CTV News' Luca Caruso-Moro 




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