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Big city mayors press Liberals to speed up flow of affordable housing money

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson participates in an interview with the Canadian Press in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. The mayors of Canada's biggest cities say they don't need the federal government to pony up more money for affordable housing units, they just need the cash to move faster.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
February 15, 2018 - 1:11 PM

OTTAWA - The mayors of Canada's biggest cities say they don't need the federal government to pony up more money for affordable housing units — they just need the cash to move faster.

The Liberals' housing plan unveiled last year outlines billions in federal cash and matching funds from the provinces and territories, but much of the money will take years to flow.

Included in the plan was cash to build 100,000 new affordable housing units and repair 240,000 more.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' big-city mayors caucus, said the mayors pressed Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Thursday to loosen the federal purse strings so the repair money is spent in the coming fiscal year while details are worked out on cash for new construction.

There is already a lag between when work takes place and federal dollars are spent because cash only flows once cities and provinces submit receipts for reimbursement.

The mayors want to avoid a long delay in spending on repairs and new funding agreements for social housing providers to avoid losing thousands of units and families losing their homes.

"We can put new roofs and new windows and new boilers and new furnaces and new insulation in aging social housing buildings this year and create jobs and get them back into supply," Iveson said during a midday press conference.

"There are units that are not … habitable right now because they've been waiting so long for that investment and we'd like to get those back in the hands of Canadians who need them and create the jobs now, not in a year or two."

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said the Liberals want to work with cities on the issue.

"We're here to find solutions to problems and this is a problem that has been identified."

Iveson and other big city mayors were in the capital for a pre-budget version of political speed dating, meeting individual cabinet ministers throughout the day to outline their wants and needs for the Feb. 27 federal budget.

Other groups have joined a similar fray for federal help to cities in the coming budget. The Canadian Global Cities Council, an umbrella group for multiple chambers of commerce and boards of trades, last week called on the Liberals to craft a national urban strategy to better identify where money is needed.

For the first time in years, the municipal leaders didn't ask for any more infrastructure money from the federal government, having received $180 billion over 10 years in combined spending from programs set up by the Liberals and the previous Conservative government.

The first batch of money from the Liberals' transit and water system program was supposed to be spent by the end of March, but delays in projects have required the Liberals to extend the spending deadline to 2020.

Federal and provincial officials say the lessons learned from the first phase of the program will be used in designing the second phase.

The Liberals are aiming to finalize funding agreements by March 31 for $33 billion in upcoming infrastructure, which is part of the $81.2 billion in the Liberals' long-term infrastructure program that Sohi specifically oversees.

Provinces are pushing the government to let them use the dollars on planned transit and water system projects, rather than put the money towards new projects.

Meanwhile, cities are asking the Liberals to press the provinces to cover a larger slice of project costs to reduce the financial contribution from cities.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the federal money was meant only to apply for new projects and not to help provinces replace their own spending.

"We have new projects that the federal government are going to fund. That's where that funding should go and the province should be stepping up to match."

— Follow @jpress on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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