Liberals look to make housing more affordable for neediest families

Liberals look to make housing more affordable for neediest families
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OTTAWA — The Liberals will announce plans today to spend tens of billions in federal dollars on a housing strategy that will provide housing benefits directly to low-income tenants, as well as repairs and renovations to some 300,000 units.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the national housing strategy say the government will also announce plans to legislate a right to housing, which will include requirements to regularly report to Parliament on federal efforts to ease the housing burden for hundreds of thousands of Canadian families.

A new financing program will be created for housing providers to help them repair the existing stock of affordable housing and use their assets to leverage additional cash to build new units.

Although the Liberals will tout some $40 billion in spending over the next decade, the plan relies on provinces and the private sector to kick in cash to stretch federal dollars.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Toronto to unveil the full details of the plan, while Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos travels to Vancouver to make a simultaneous announcement on the West Coast to mark National Housing Day.

Recently released census data found that 1.7 million households were in “core housing need” in 2016, meaning they spent more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or does not meet their needs.

Outside of Vancouver, the cities with the highest rates of core housing need were in Ontario. In Toronto, close to one in five households were financially stretched — the highest rate of any city in the country.

The government hopes that building 80,000 new affordable rental units, along with billions more in spending over the next decade, will lift 500,000 of those families out of core housing need and help a further 500,000 avoid or get out of homelessness.

The portable housing benefit will be a centrepiece of the plan. The benefit, sources say, will be targeted at the most vulnerable Canadians, such as single mothers and Indigenous Peoples, who could take it with them through the private market.

The details of how the spending will roll out are of keen interest to housing providers and cities. Municipal leaders have been meeting federal officials this week to talk about the national housing strategy.

Provinces and territories will also have to see how the new federal money will interact with existing provincial benefits, which are likely to be dealt with when the Liberals negotiate funding agreements.

Several aspects of the plan won’t be outlined in detail today. For instance, an Indigenous housing strategy will be mentioned, but is still subject to months of consultations with national Aboriginal groups.

The Liberals laid the financial backbone for the plan in this year’s federal budget, promising $11.2 billion over a decade in new spending. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., is expected to turn about $5 billion of that money into $15 billion by leveraging private investment.

Still, most of the money won’t be spent until after the next election in 2019, which concerns anti-poverty groups.

Those groups are planning demonstrations in multiple cities today, demanding the Liberals spend the full $11.2 billion before the next election.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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