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At a news conference in Vancouver on Wednesday, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that the first of nine projects has already received funds.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is giving $184-million in low-interest loans and grants to Vancouver-area housing providers to ensure that 1,100 units rent below market rates, which housing activists say are simply out of reach for most people.

Agreements have been signed to distribute $114-million in loans and $70-million in grants and capital funding to nine projects on city-owned land. The new money will be dedicated to units already in the works and will not directly boost Vancouver’s small supply of non-market housing.

That’s a shame, said Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of Simon Fraser University’s City program. “It’s increasing the affordability, but not necessarily increasing the units.”

Mr. Yan’s latest research into the City of Vancouver’s housing data shows an average of 258 social and supportive housing units were completed each year in Vancouver over the past decade. That was less than half the annual averages for completed market rentals and a fraction of the 3,712 market homes that came online annually over that same span.

The loan money pledged by Ottawa comes just two months before a federal election and is part of the Liberal government’s national housing program. The money will be disbursed through three separate funds aimed at financing projects that include temporary modular housing, mixed-market rentals as well as housing co-operatives.

The loans will be made at rates as low as 1.5 per cent. Len Catling, a spokesperson for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which is in charge of overseeing the loans, said the length of the loans varies from project to project, with some developers of rental buildings able to negotiate a 50-year amortization period with the federal housing agency. He could not provide a timeline for when all the funds would be disbursed.

At a news conference in Vancouver on Wednesday, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that the first of nine projects has already received funds.

The project is a 140-unit co-operative housing development slated to open by next year in South Vancouver.

Developer Thom Armstrong, executive director of the non-profit Community Land Trust, said after the news conference that without this 10-year, $53-million loan, the building would have been much less affordable. Before the loan, half the units would have been subsidized for households making $80,000 or as much as $100,000 a year. Now, the developer can offer half the units to those families earning $60,000 or less, he said.

“That’s where the rubber really hits the road and why these new financing tools are so important,” he said.

The federal government announced its national housing plan after the election in 2015, but housing activists and non-profit developers in one of the country’s most unaffordable cities had complained that little of the money flowed west.

A year ago, Ottawa committed nearly $1-billion to continuing operating and subsidy agreements for dozens of B.C. co-ops and non-profit housing associations.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the city estimates that it contributed $96-million to the nine projects, which includes the value of the land underneath them, as well as grants and waivers to development levies. He praised the funding but said more is needed to address homelessness and stabilize the co-operative housing sector in the city.

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