Advocates call for change in housing fund after data shows skew to Ontario

Ontario projects received roughly $1.39 billion out of $1.46 billion awarded since program began

VANCOUVER — A federal government fund providing financing for affordable housing projects needs to be rebuilt because it doesn’t do enough to help provinces outside of Ontario, advocates say.

The National Housing Co-Investment Fund, administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., provides a mix of loans and forgivable debt to those building affordable housing and multi-use projects.

Data obtained by federal NDP housing critic Jenny Kwan shows nearly 74 per cent of the financing for loans and grants has gone to Ontario projects from its inception in May 2018 to June 2020.

“The application process has been exceedingly slow and complicated, and it also means, and continues to mean, that little of the money is flowing out the door in an expeditious way to the community in need,” Kwan said in an interview.

“The investment fund is still heavily skewed in its funding to Ontario. Ontario is the only province that’s really getting finalized agreements in large amounts and the rest of the country is still lagging far behind.”

Ontario projects received roughly $1.39 billion out of $1.46 billion awarded since the program began, most of it going towards repairs for Toronto Community Housing.

B.C. has received $9 million in finalized funding, or about 0.55 per cent of the $1.46 billion handed out so far, Kwan said.

Ahmed Hussen, the minister of families, children and social development, was not available for an interview, but department spokeswoman Jessica Eritou said the government has made the largest housing investment in Canadian history for rental and community housing.

“We have made important progress, but we know how urgent the needs are, particularly in B.C. It is why we are absolutely committed to working with CMHC to get funds out the door faster,” she said in a statement.

Eritou said the numbers released by Kwan don’t provide enough context on the state of housing funding.

“The information failed to tell the story of the dozens of B.C. applications under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund being assessed, along with additional applications under other (National Housing Strategy) programs with applications nearing completion, or with loan agreements or memorandums of understanding in place,” she said.

The national housing strategy is a 10-year, $55 billion plan launched by the federal government in 2017, focusing on housing for Indigenous and vulnerable people and those in northern communities. It aims to cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent and help build 125,000 new homes.

B.C. has received $2.5 billion in funding under the National Housing Strategy as of June 2020, Eritou said.

That funding is equivalent to just over a quarter of the strategy’s total available funds to date, she said.

More than $190 million has been committed to B.C. through the housing investment fund to repair or build 2,420 units of housing as of that date as well, Eritou added.

Jill Atkey, the CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said it’s time for the government’s approach to funding housing to change.

“I think the investment being made here in B.C. is still pretty inadequate to make a dent in the demand for affordable housing,” she said in an interview. “We continue to want to see this program restructured so we can deploy those investments much more quickly and forcefully here in B.C.”

Atkey described the application process as “off-putting” to many in the non-profit housing sector, with more than 200 questions on the application and a long wait time for approval.

Veronique Laflamme, a spokeswoman for the Quebec housing advocacy group Popular Action Front in Urban Redevelopment, said the investment fund is not enough to help affordable housing projects.

Laflamme says her main concern with the fund is that it’s not a long-term solution.

“It’s not a vision. It’s not a plan to be sure that we’ll have more adequate housing in Canada to answer our core housing needs. It’s not a good tool to meet the goals of the so-called national housing strategy,” she said.

Kwan agrees, and said she would like to see more support offered to Canada Mortgage and Housing to work through the applications it receives.

She said she would also like to see the federal government work more closely with all levels of governments and non-government agencies to offer more financial support for housing projects.

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