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National Housing Strategy bodes well for Northwest

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

KDSB awaiting details on how cost-sharing agreements will guide federal funding
By Chris Marchand

Those who deliver social services in the region are keen to see how the federal government’s return to the social housing sector may broaden the scope of what they hope to achieve.

The Trudeau government’s announcement of a National Housing Strategy last week marked the end of a 20-year federal departure from the social housing file. The strategy plans to deliver up to $40 billion over 10 years, to build 100,000 new living spaces and renovate 300,000 existing units nationwide. Hoping to cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent, an initial investment of $11.2 billion will address the urgent needs of 530,000 vulnerable families and individuals.

The announcement was greeted with optimism by Kenora District Services Board CAO Henry Wall.

“It’s really nice to see the federal government getting back into the housing sector, but we have not had a strategy like this before, so that part of the announcement was very welcome,” said Wall. “It was also nice to see our federal government realize how important housing is and the importance it plays in ensuring families are set up to succeed and thrive in our communities.”

Northern Ontario Service Deliverers Association Chair Iain Angus also welcomed news of the strategy, particularly the plan to flow funding through the existing provincial framework.

“We are also pleased that the Federal Government has decided to work through the Provinces rather than spending a large share of the allocation on a new bureaucracy rather than investing the funds directly in housing and tenants,” said Angus in Nov. 23 statement.

Wall says that many of the finer details have yet to be determined and that a great deal of the funding will depend on cost-sharing agreements with the provinces and territories that are still under negotiation.

“There were some really important indicators that we took as good news from the announcement and from the strategy itself. For this government to have officially recognized ‘housing rights’ as ‘human rights’ is a big step and a bold statement to make.” 

Wall says that the strategy points to a changing model that the KDSB will have to adapt to, but also one that addresses many of their challenges in funding housing development and may even lead to new partnerships with players in the private sector.

“As service providers in the district, we should not be expecting or be relying on big capital funding rollouts that’s going to result in the development of new housing in this district,” said Wall. “We’re going to have to be quite creative. When you break down that $40 billion, $11 billion of is going to be in affordable loans — that will change our business plan. It will offer a lot more flexibility to have low-interest loans in going about meeting community needs. It might be a tool to make more affordable seniors housing happen. It might not be as tied specifically to ‘affordable’ housing — you can look at mixed models where you have full market rent housing as well as income support housing. We know that those kind of housing arrangements set people up to succeed much better than simply having one building with multiple units and it’s all low-income.”

The National Housing Strategy also proposes a portable housing benefit, a program currently being piloted in the Kenora District for families fleeing violence.

“What we found was that families, if they were simply just given the financial means to make the choice on their own, were successful in finding housing much quicker,” said Wall. “But it also sent a stark message to us that without an adequate housing stock in the district, having that choice didn’t make any difference.”

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