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Ottawa lauds Vancouver’s plan to offer land for affordable-housing funds

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, says he has received many proposals from cities that have identified municipally owned land that could be developed under promised federal funding for social infrastructure.


Vancouver is getting a positive reaction from the federal government in response to proposals to offer up city-owned property for Ottawa to fund new affordable housing.

Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said he is receiving many proposals from cities that have identified plots of municipally owned land that could be developed under promised federal funding for social infrastructure.

The minister was responding to a report Tuesday in The Globe and Mail that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is offering $250-million worth of city-owned property in an effort to secure $500-million over five years from Ottawa to build affordable housing. Toronto Mayor John Tory is promoting a similar plan.

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Mr. Duclos, who is the minister responsible for social housing, said, "I think it's a most welcome demonstration that this issue is important. That's a good statement from the Vancouver mayor. I hear similar things from many other places in Canada."

Mr. Robertson said he's hoping the province will contribute substantially as well, in order to ensure that a higher number of the proposed 3,500 units be available at subsidized rates.

"It would be great to see the province come in and match. We're looking at a value of $250-million from the city side," Mr. Robertson said. "If they want to come in on the high side at $500-million, that enables us to do the maximum. The more the province comes in, the more affordability we can hit."

Mr. Duclos will be meeting his provincial and territorial counterparts later this week in Edmonton for what the minister says will be the first meeting of social-affairs ministers in 10 years. Social housing is on the agenda for that meeting. At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and six other federal cabinet ministers will be meeting in Ottawa to discuss the coming federal budget.

"In the budget, there will be a social-infrastructure program, some of which will address the important issues of affordable housing for all Canadians, including those living in more expensive cities," Mr. Duclos said.

A date for the budget has not yet been announced but it is widely expected to be released in March.

The Liberals have promised to spend an additional $60-billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years, with the money split evenly between public transit, social infrastructure and green infrastructure. Canadian municipalities are attempting to target each of the three funds in their infrastructure requests. For instance, there have been suggestions that the $20-billion for green infrastructure could be used for social-housing repairs because retrofits of existing buildings would reduce energy consumption.

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Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who is the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister for intergovernmental affairs, said Toronto has already shown that municipally owned land can be a valuable asset that can be used to get affordable housing projects started.

He said the idea of matching municipally owned land with federal infrastructure spending is something that will be discussed with big-city mayors later this week in Ottawa.

"Land is an asset that governments control at all levels that can be monetized in very specific ways to amplify and accelerate housing programs. There's no question about it," said Mr. Vaughan, a former Toronto city councillor. "It's an idea that deserves exploration."

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