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Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen at a news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 27, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal minister in charge of affordable housing says projects left waiting cap-in-hand when the program they applied to ran out of money will be at the front of the queue during the second round of funding.

The $1 billion the Liberals set aside in the fall for the rapid-housing program went faster than the timelines to get units built. The combined value of all applications the government received amounted to about $4 billion, with hundreds left unfunded.

Under the program, cities and housing providers were given funding to build or buy units that could be quickly turned into affordable housing within 12 months.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said applications for viable projects that were in line when the funding taps ran dry will be prioritized for federal dollars under the revamped program.

There is $1.5 billion on the table this time around, with cities again receiving $500 million, but $1 billion for the oversubscribed project stream.

Hussen also said the government will see how the second round of funding goes before deciding whether to renew the rapid-housing program, or make it a permanent part of the national housing strategy.

“I am very optimistic that it will do amazing, the results will be incredible, and how we proceed with the future of the rapid-housing initiative will obviously also be linked to that examination,” Hussen said in an interview Friday.

“I love the program and hopefully we can find ways to continue to support it.”

The Liberals rolled out the program last fall to help municipalities house people as temporary shelter measures for the COVID-19 pandemic were set to expire. Some cities have been renting hotel rooms to accommodate people while shelter capacity is reduced to allow for physical spacing, but they were badly stretched financially.

In the first round, 15 cities split the $500 million based on their size and level of need. For this round, the same funding envelope and formula will apply to 30 municipalities, stretching dollars further.

Other tweaks to the program have been made to allow applicants to get funding for different kinds of construction projects, so long as they can be completed within 12 months, give cities 60 days rather than 30 to submit their project lists, and relax delivery timelines for projects in the North.

“There’s no other program like this that exists in the national housing strategy where housing can be built so fast,” Hussen said. “There was a lot of learning and feedback that we got after the first round.”

In rolling out the program this week, the Liberals said projects that provide housing to Indigenous people will also receive priority, after about 40 per cent of the 4,700 units created in the first round targeted in Indigenous households.

The Liberals have been pressed to help providers that house urban Indigenous people by boosting funding and creating a promised strategy to meet their particular needs, and left many providers upset when a strategy was left out of this year’s budget.

A House of Commons committee in May recommended the federal government provide adequate, long-term funding for an Indigenous-led strategy to provide more culturally appropriate housing and support services for Indigenous people living in cities. The report noted that affordability in general is a key issue for Indigenous people in cities as they can often struggle to find affordable housing in urban centres.

Hussen suggested the rapid-housing program, coupled with the committee report, were core elements of the construction of a dedicated strategy to address the funding and service gaps that exist for Indigenous housing in urban centres.

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