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Drastic housing funding changes could leave families homeless, Liberals warned

September 28, 2017 - 2:03 PM

OTTAWA - Tens of thousands of low-income families could end up homeless in the coming years if the Liberal government drastically changes the way it spends billions in affordable housing benefits, warn those who work to keep such families housed.

Decades-old funding agreements that provide grants to keep rent levels or operating costs down are set to expire over the next 20 years, and the Trudeau government has vowed to keep money in the housing system.

But with Ottawa putting the finishing touches on a new housing benefit that would be tied to people, rather than places, housing providers are concerned the government will end up robbing Peter to pay Paul.

That could strain the finances of tens of thousands of low-income households, potentially leaving them out of affordable housing options because they can't cover increases in rent, or because their housing provider can't afford to stay in business.

"Unless the federal government introduces a replacement program that will ensure the continuation of rent-subsidized units, then the risk and the fear is that these units will disappear," said Jeff Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

"As a result, the people — especially low-income, vulnerable populations — that rely on these units will really have nowhere else to go."

The majority of the funding agreements will expire by 2025, with the last one set to mature in 2038.

The government's first budget committed $30 million over two years to hundreds of agreements that have expired or will do so by March 2018, affecting about 13,000 units.

Estimates on the combined value of agreements that are expiring during the next decade range from $3.5 billion to $5 billion — money that would otherwise have disappeared without a new program.

In a 2016 presentation to the minister overseeing the housing plan, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said providers holding 17 per cent of the country's social housing stock are likely at risk of shutting down if the money stops flowing.

Evan Siddall, president and CEO of the CMHC, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview that he wants that money to pay for the supply of affordable housing, which the government has promised to boost.

The mayors of Canada's biggest cities want help to go directly to housing providers initially, before shifting over time into a direct benefit for families — part of a detailed request made public this month through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Tim Ross, director of strategic affairs with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, wants both sides to be complementary, so families can stay in their homes, while the providers who house them can stay afloat.

Ross said there are about 20,000 low-income households in co-operatives that rely on housing assistance to keep their homes affordable.

"We hope to see a balanced approach (in the housing strategy) where one measure is not rolled out at the expense of another," he said.

The lobbying comes as officials put the final touches on a federal housing strategy that will pump $11.2 billion into housing over the next 11 years, including cash set aside to transform the system so providers can become financially independent.

Officials have hinted they plan to take a hybrid approach, with funding going to traditional, place-based supplements as well as a new portable benefit.

"If there was enough money on the table to do both rental subsidies ensuring no net loss of existing stock and a portable benefit, I think we're OK," Morrison said.

"But that's the question: is there enough money?"

A spokesman for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the details of what will happen to the money will be unveiled when the national housing strategy is publicly released this fall.

— Follow @jpress on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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