Ottawa promises $1-billion to cities for affordable housing

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A pedestrian walks past the Roehamptom Hotel, currently providing rooms as a homeless shelter, in midtown Toronto, on August 27, 2020.

Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa is promising $1-billion to help cities pay for affordable housing, although the federal government has not provided details about how the money will be allocated.

Toronto Mayor John Tory called the federal funding “a good start … but it is not yet enough.”

The federal government said Monday this money could be used to convert existing buildings, purchase land or build modular housing, and it will help create up to 3,000 homes across the country.

“Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which will deliver the program, said in a statement.

“Our government is moving quickly to provide more affordable housing to keep our vulnerable populations safe, to fight the virus over the long-term, and to support Canada’s economic recovery.”

It’s not clear, though, how much of the money will flow to Toronto, Canada’s largest city, where real estate costs have soared over the past decade. In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for Mr. Hussen’s ministry said that details about how the federal $1-billion will be doled out across the country are forthcoming.

Toronto officials have said the city alone needs to build 3,000 affordable homes over the next two years.

“If you look at the magnitude of this problem in Toronto alone, and the $1-billion of course is spread across the country, we have certainly an obligation in front of us, which I will pursue with vigour, of getting our fair share of that money. But it will be not enough,” Mr. Tory told reporters.

Still, the announcement was warmly received in Toronto, where political leaders have been pleading for federal assistance.

“I welcome today’s commitment from the federal government and call upon our provincial government to provide the ongoing support that will enable supportive housing initiatives to continue in a sustainable manner now and in the years to come,” said Toronto Councillor Ana Bailao, chair of the city’s planning and housing committee.

Last week, Mr. Tory called for money from the higher levels of government to fund the bulk of a $1-billion housing plan that would transform the city’s emergency shelter system.

The plan, which will be debated by a council committee on Tuesday, reflects the steep cost of actions the city has taken to house homeless people since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Renting hotel rooms for the homeless has been so costly that Toronto officials say it would make more sense to purchase the hotels and turn them into permanent housing.

The prepandemic cost of providing a shelter bed of $3,000 a month has since doubled.

With files from The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray

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