MAYOR’S MESSAGE: Victoria could benefit greatly from federal housing leadership

Lisa Helps says National Housing Strategy could dovetail nicely into regional program

Last week, I along with other mayors across Canada, welcomed Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement of a 10-year, $40-billion National Housing Strategy (NHS). Its target is to reduce homelessness and improve the availability and quality of housing in Canada.

This is a welcome announcement for us in Victoria for five key reasons and means we can seriously tackle housing affordability, a fundamental concern of everyone living here.

First, at long last, it puts Canada in line with other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Until last week, Canada was the only OECD country without a national housing strategy.

Second, the most significant commitment in the strategy is to enshrine housing as a right for Canadians, recognizing that safe, secure affordable housing is critical to individual and community well-being, and key to a strong and prosperous economy.

Third, I welcome the federal Strategy’s ambitious goals:

• Reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent;

• Build 100,000 new affordable housing units;

• Repair 300,000 affordable housing units;

• Provide 300,000 households with financial assistance;

• Protect 385,000 households from losing an affordable home and;

• Remove more than 530,000 households from core housing need.

And its delivery programs:

• The Canada Housing Benefit will help families by providing an average rent subsidy of $2,500 annually beginning in April 2020 and concluding in 2028. The National Housing Co-Investment Fund will provide financial contributions and low interest loans to developers that meet certain energy, accessibility and affordability standards.

• The Canada Community Housing Initiative will support provinces and territories to support their housing efforts. Combined with matching provincial funds, the total investment will be $8.6 billion. The NHS also commits to ensuring that at least 25 per cent of funds go to projects for women, girls and their families.

Fourth, the federal strategy aligns with the City of Victoria’s own Housing Strategy, by increasing the supply of affordable housing, helping low- to moderate-income individuals and families access market rental housing, protecting the existing rental housing stock through upgrades and repair and specifically allocating funds to projects benefiting women and their families.

Finally, it aligns with the Capital Region’s Housing First Program – a $60-million joint venture between the CRD, BC Housing, Island Health and the Coalition to End Homelessness. Over the next five years, Housing First will see 880 units built in the region, including 268 at shelter rates, a further number at 50 per cent of market rates and additional units at 85 per cent of market rates.

Last December, the CRD applied to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation Innovation Fund for another $30 million. If this is delivered, the total unit count will rise to 1,340 units in the region. These are in addition to the National Housing Strategy units, which will add both new or repaired affordable housing units, provided that the funds are allocated proportionally by population. (To see how the City and region would benefit if NHS resources were allocated proportionally by population, see the table below)

But there’s also a case to be made to the federal government to highlight the disproportionate share of housing costs and housing need in expensive cities like Victoria to try to secure more funding.

Between the National Housing Strategy and the Regional Housing First Program, we will finally start to see some relief for people living on low incomes in our region. We’ve waited a long time in this region for national leadership and for this money to be available.

Now, let’s work together to get the much-needed housing built.

Lisa Helps is the mayor of Victoria.

 

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