Nearly four years after the Liberals took over the federal government, announcements about money for affordable-housing projects have started to arrive at a furious clip.
There have been at least 45 announcements about federal dollars to be contributed to housing developments since January, with Liberal MPs and ministers across the country holding almost weekly news conferences on everything from $650,000 for 13 townhouses in Porters Lake, N.S., to $60-million for 308 new rentals in Ajax, Ont., to the announcement last week of $183-million for 1,100 homes in Vancouver.
But according to a Canadian housing expert, although the money will make a difference in enabling lower rents on particular projects, it took a long time coming, and still doesn’t come close to matching the enormous dollar figures that federal politicians tout in the Liberals’ new national housing strategy: $40-billion in an early version, $55-billion in later ones.
Nor does it amount to a significant increase in funding for housing, according to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer published earlier this year.
All of which makes the rash of announcements this year look even more suspicious, with only three months until a federal election, University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski said.
“The housing strategy is a public relations gimmick, assisting fewer low income people than in the past and it is not actually federal spending of $40-billion or $55-billion over 10 years but about $16-billion," said Prof. Hulchanski, who has dedicated his academic career to researching housing in Canada.
He said the amount of money being spent now isn’t any more than what the previous Conservative government was spending, except for a small upward blip in 2016. But the Liberals are able to announce new money since some old commitments from the 1970s to subsidize housing are now expiring, freeing up some dollars.
The announcements now coming one after another – there were 11 in February alone, not counting openings of previously funded projects – are problematic, he said.
“They’re using public money in a partisan fashion. They do it when there’s a political need.”
The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer also concluded earlier this year that the Liberal government was not putting significant new money into housing.
Its basic conclusion was that the money is about the same – around $2.6-billion a year spent on housing – with slightly less for groups of people with the most needs.
“It is not clear that the National Housing Strategy will reduce the prevalence of housing need relative to 2017 levels,” the report said. “Overall, Canada’s National Housing Strategy largely maintains current funding levels for current activities and slightly reduces targeted funding for households in core housing need.”
For example, “there is a $325 million [per] year (14%) reduction in funding for Assistance for Housing Needs programs intended to help low-income households compared with the 10-year historical average,” notes the report.
In spite of that, the money that is starting to stream in is being welcomed by groups desperate to build housing who hadn’t seen significant federal dollars in a while.
In Vancouver, the money announced last week amounts to a straight contribution of about $62,000 a unit for 1,100 homes, as well as a still not-calculated benefit provided by $119-million worth of construction loans at the government lending rate of 1.5 per cent.
“The financing is a game changer,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. Mr. Armstrong is overseeing the group of non-profits building the 1,100 units and he has been critical of how long it took the federal money to arrive. “Now, we think, in one project, almost half of the 140 homes will be affordable to households with $60,000 income or less. Before, it would have been maybe a quarter of them.”
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