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Diocese urges government to improve federal affordable housing strategy

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By on June 1, 2022

The Anglican Diocese of Ottawa is recommending that the federal government make National Housing Strategy programs more effective in meeting the needs of people in greatest housing need.

Bishop Shane Parker and representatives of the Homelessness and Affordable Housing Working Group (HAHWG) met virtually with Yasir Naqvi, MP for Ottawa Centre, to present a review of programs based on the Diocese’s experience with affordable housing projects in the city. 

While welcoming the government’s commitment to affordable housing through the National Housing Strategy launched in 2017, the HAHWG submission identified problems with an unrealistic definition of affordable housing and barriers to accessing the funds that have been allocated to the programs.

Naqvi said the meeting gave him good talking points to use in presenting the “well thought out and concise” submission to Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen.

Joining Bishop Shane for the presentation were HAHWG Chair Sue Garvey and Joyce Potter, former executive with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and City of Ottawa housing, a member of the working group.

The submission was prepared in close consultation with representatives of CAHDCO, the Ottawa non-profit real estate development corporation that has been a partner in the diocese’s projects. 

The submission recommended that the government:

  • Eliminate the need for non-profit applicants for NHS funding to have first received approval from other orders of government;
  • Rebalance funding under NHS programs to increase significantly funds for subsidies by reducing the amount available for loans;
  • Simplify the application process for SEED funding while increasing the size of grants;
  • Adjust the definition of affordability to accurately reflect current market conditions. 

In addition to requiring prior approval from provincial and municipal governments, HAWHG’s research found the CMHC application process cumbersome and slow, taking months or even years.

Potter pointed out that despite the investment of billions of dollars in NHS programs there are problems with their design and delivery. As a result, the vast majority of funding is not helping those in core housing need. Unless programs are properly targeted the affordable housing crisis will continue.  Core housing need is defined as living in an unsuitable or inadequate dwelling, not able to afford alternative housing in the community and paying more than 30 per cent of pre-tax household income for shelter. 

Bishop Shane said the diocese’s project with Julian of Norwich parish and Multifaith Housing Initiative is an example of the funding crunch. The project for about 60 units has encountered a delay because of a shortfall in funding.

In Ottawa, an “affordable” unit under one of the NHS programs works out to monthly rent of $1,200, while the maximum shelter allowance under Ontario provincial programs is $781. The design of another program allows for a monthly “affordable” rent in Ottawa of $2,900.

The federal budget on April 7 proposed changes to some NHS programs that were in line with the diocese’s recommendations.  It undertook to redefine affordability in the program that allowed the $2,900 monthly rent.  It promised easier access and faster approvals for another program. 

The Diocese’s submission welcomed the extension in the budget for another year of the Rapid Housing Initiative, the NHS program has been most helpful in supporting the work of the Community Ministries. But it urged increased and on-going funding.  

The solution to the continuing shortage of affordable housing, Potter said, requires all governments and stakeholders to work together. The Diocese needs supportive funding from government and government needs the experience, commitment, fundraising efforts and volunteers that the diocese brings to the table.

For the federal government the challenge now is to ensure the shortcomings that were recognized in the budget are implemented effectively and quickly.

Garvey cited the Diocese’s practice of reserving 10 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of every church property for an affordable housing fund as evidence of its commitment.  She pointed out that the diocese is on track to achieving its goal of creating 125 new units to celebrate the diocese 125th anniversary last year.

Naqvi said other faith groups are interested in affordable housing and can benefit from the experience of the Diocese.  He believes Ottawa is in a position to provide leadership to the cause of ending homelessness and he is committed to bringing more supportive housing to the city. “I am a friend and a partner,” he said.

Bishop Shane thanked him and said, “We stand ready to assist you.”

The meeting was the first initiative of the government relations advisory panel which the bishop reconstituted in January.  

Author

  • David Humphreys

    David Humphreys is a member of the diocesan Homelessness and Affordable Housing Working Group. A retired journalist and former Globe and Mail bureau chief, he is a regular contributor to Crosstalk.

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