Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Politics holding up $481M for affordable housing

Political posturing between Ottawa and Queen’s Park is holding up $481 million in federal-provincial funds to help the homeless and other Ontarians struggling to pay for housing, the Star has learned.

The bilateral agreement, signed earlier this summer, is part of a larger federal framework announced in July which sets out how Ottawa and the provinces will spend $1.4 billion on affordable housing over the next three years.

But until the agreement between Ottawa and Queen’s Park is formally announced, none of the money earmarked for Ontario can be spent. It means all new construction, rent supplements, renovations and affordable home ownership programs in the province are on hold.

Sources say Ottawa is reluctant to sign off on an announcement so close to the provincial election for fear of giving Dalton McGuinty’s governing Liberals a boost.

“Obviously, this is something the Liberals could use in the campaign to show its on-going commitment to affordable housing,” said one source.

Another source said the “political blood is so bad” between Ottawa and Queen’s Park on housing that it would have been a struggle even if there wasn’t an election looming.

More than 152,000 Ontario households are on affordable housing waiting lists and an estimated 20 per cent of tenants are paying more than 50 per cent of their income on housing, advocates say.

“It’s frustrating when you look at the need,” said Sharad Kerur, head of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

“The economy is hurting and we all know that these kinds of programs help the economy,” he said. “So while they’re sitting around dealing with their pissing match, the money could be put to good use to stimulate the economy right now.”

The money is part of a 2008 agreement between Ottawa and the provinces to spend a combined $1.9 billion over five years on affordable housing initiatives across the country.

The agreement called for an update by March 2011 to determine how the remaining $1.4 billion would be spent.

Diane Finley, the federal minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., announced the new framework agreement on July 4.

Under that agreement provinces can spend the money to help needy households in the following four areas:

Construction or conversion of new rental or ownership housing.

Initiatives to boost affordability of existing housing through rent supplements, shelter allowances or homeownership assistance.

Preservation or enhancement of existing affordable housing through renovation or rehabilitation.

New construction or renovations to help vulnerable groups such as seniors, the disabled or those fleeing violence.

Bilateral agreements between Ottawa and each province are needed before the money flows.

Under the 50-50 cost-sharing agreement Ontario signed with Ottawa on July 12, municipalities will have the flexibility to spend the money in the designated areas best suited to local need, provincial officials said.

About $177 million will go to municipalities in the Greater Toronto area, including $108 million to Toronto; $32 million for Peel; $22 million for York and $15 million for Durham.

A government official confirmed Friday the province is having “difficulty coordinating the announcement of the deal” with Ottawa.

Finley’s office did not return several requests for an interview.

A spokesperson for Housing Minister Rick Bartolucci said the new agreement supports Ontario’s long-term affordable housing strategy, announced last spring.

“It builds on our strong local partnerships and will deliver effective housing programs,” said Laura Blondeau.

Ontario continues to press Ottawa for a permanent long-term affordable housing strategy for the country so that municipalities that administer the money “have certainty about what they are getting now and down the road,” she added.

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