The release of the Federal Budget is something that is anticipated annually by non-profits across the country. For the community housing sector, federal supports are imperative as the cost of maintaining and creating affordable housing is sky rocketing. Money allocated to housing makes a drastic difference as to what can be addressed within the sector and how organizations work to tackle the Canadian Housing Crisis.

Cahdco, alongside the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa and the Ottawa Community Land Trust hosted a Discussion Panel to break down the 2024 Federal Budget. The panel was an intimate discussion with MP Yasir Naqvi and Ray Sullivan, President of the Canadian Housing Renewal Association. On the morning of May 1st 2024, the two sat down for a deep dive into the implications and opportunities stemming from the budget for affordable housing development in Ottawa.

Ray Sullivan and MP Yasir Naqvi opening up the session. Credits: Cahdco

 

Investment by All Levels of Government

Both panelists agreed that all three levels of government need to invest in the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Beyond direct funding, other key areas of intergovernmental coordination are required, such as policy changes, updating planning strategies and distributing surplus land. The panelists noted that the province of Ontario has been noticeably absent at the housing table. As a result, the federal government has bypassed the province to push policy changes including Official Plan Amendments (OPA) to allow up to 4 units per lot in all residential zones and providing funding directly to cities through the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF).

Access to Land

MP Yasir pointed out how federal lands need to be made more accessible, especially in the City of Ottawa. Many years ago, the federal government leased lands to affordable housing providers, in developments like Phase 1 of LeBreton Flats. The budget stipulates that more federal lands are to be accessible through to Canada Lands Company, at the cost of $1 (Budget 2024, chapter 1) which can then be transferred or leased to affordable housing providers. This transfer of land is in conjunction with the Federal Lands Initiative (FLI). FLI is a $200 million fund that assists the transfer of surplus federal lands to ‘eligible proponents’ (CMHC). Some audience members expressed concern at this program as it is a transfer of lands from one level of government to the other whereas as the lands could be sold directly for $1 to ‘eligible ’.

Ray Sullivan also pointed out that there are land parcels that are significantly underused. Typically, these are prime locations for housing and are not used efficiently. Examples where shared like parking lots or low-level buildings that can be further developed, occasionally referred to as “lazy land” (HART Housing Glossary). He argued that they are an opportunity to densify spaces like post offices, schools, and underused parking lots. Yasir gave the example of the Elgin Street Public School and how the site could be redeveloped to be a 2-storey public school with housing above – a mixed use mid-rise building on Elgin Street.

Office to Housing Conversion Opportunities

Office to housing conversions present a new avenue for the federal government to contribute in creating more affordable housing. The budget has allocated funding to Public Services and Procurement Canada to reduce the federal office portfolio by 50 per cent as part of their office space rationalization efforts. A reduction in public service office space could pave the way for thousands of new units. Participants asked about the possibility of commercial spaces being integrated into conversions, in particular non-profit options for retail, groceries and other services. MP Naqvi encouraged the idea of co-op grocers and non-profit daycare services as potential combinations that can be achieved. While it makes for a more sustainable community it should be noted that existing affordable housing capital funding sources generally do not support commercial aspects of a project. As a result, it’s far more challenging for non profits and co-ops to create commercial and community opportunities.

Ray Sullivan and MP Yasir Naqvi speaking on the budget. Credits: Cahdco

Available Funds for Development

Cahdco measures affordable housing development potential in three key areas (legs of the stool), all of which are critical for any development: land, money and capacity. Ray simplified this further by arguing that in Ottawa we just need more money. The Ottawa affordable housing sector has the capacity and there are adequate land opportunities but only with more money will the projects come together. Budget 2024 includes a $1 billion top up to the Affordable Housing Fund (formally Co-I) and some funding is to be allocated towards the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) as well. Ray noted the City of Ottawa would likely be allocated between $20 to $40 million of these funds which would facilitate the creation of only one to two supportive housing projects.

 

Stop the Loss

As studied by Carleton University Professor Steve Pomeroy for every new unit of affordable housing built in Ottawa, 31 are being lost due to rising rents, renovations or demolition. New federal budget initiatives are attempting to tackle this loss through programs such as the acquisition fund and the Renter Protection Fund which includes a $1.5 billion investment – $500 million of which is a grant and $1 billion in loans. The panelists emphasized that these funds are to be allocated across the county and will be used quickly. There’s optimism that this fund will demonstrate their potential and that more support could follow.

 

 

The panel discussion helped sector organizations understand the governments direction when it comes to how the funding from Budget 2024 is being distributed and the federal governments commitment towards affordable housing. It can be said that the federal budget attempts to tackle needs of the sector but the funding is still stretched so thin on a national scale. The conversation highlighted that the City of Ottawa and the province need to match the funding that the federal government has committed to see the results that Ottawa residents deserve.

 

We would like to thank Ray Sullivan and MP Yasir Naqvi for such an engaging discussion and honing in on the items of the budget that housers can take advantage of. If you would like to attend future discussion panels sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date!

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