By Jenn Watt
Published Dec. 5 2017
Funding announced by the federal government for affordable housing was welcomed by many across the country and in Haliburton County as well.
On National Housing Day the Liberal government set out a national housing strategy outlining billions of dollars to create affordable housing and assist low-income Canadians in paying for housing.
The plan would create 60000 new affordable housing units and repair some 240000 as well as set aside a $4 billion “portable” benefit called the Canada Housing Benefit which would give money to low-income Canadians to assist them in paying for their housing.
The money would help 530000 who currently spend more than a third of their before-tax income on housing and reduce “chronic” homelessness by half the government said.
In Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock local Conservative MP Jamie Schmale said he agreed that money needs to be funnelled into housing and to alleviate homelessness. However he said the plan did not release funds quickly enough.
“Any funding that does roll off the line doesn’t happen until 2020. That’s a pretty big concern” he said in an interview with the Echo on Friday.
He also pointed out that money was announced contingent on provincial buy-in which hadn’t happened yet. The provinces are expected to contribute some $40 billion over 10 years.
“The other concern I have in that whole proposal is that there’s a very small section – I mean really small – that dealt with engaging the private sector in this area” he said.
Government decisions that have increased the cost of living for Canadians and Ontarians in particular is putting additional pressure on people who are struggling to pay rent the MP said.
“We have two organizations [in Haliburton County] that work to heat people’s homes in the winter. … because people are struggling with do I pay my hydro bill which is out of control or do I buy groceries which are also going up?” he said.
The provincial government has taken a lot of flak over the years for the skyrocketing electricity rates and Schmale attributes rising grocery prices to additional fuel taxes.
“Everything goes up. Everything cascades up throughout the sector that uses some sort of fuel whether it produces goods or gets goods to market” he said.
Still the MP was positive about many measures announced Nov. 22 – in particular the Canada Housing Benefit.
“Giving people that ability to make decisions on conditions that affect their lives is always a good thing” he said.
Fay Martin who is a local affordable housing advocate and founder of Places for People which provides affordable housing options in Haliburton said she was happy with what she heard from the announcement.
“I think the most interesting part is the Canadian Housing Benefit which is basically a portable rent supplement for low-income households eventually serving 300000 households” she told the paper via email. “The province is already piloting a similar scheme so by the time this funding flows the mechanism for delivering it should be fairly solid.”
Martin said she saw a need for the private sector to play a bigger role in creating housing though she was optimistic that the additional dollars flowing to low-income Canadians would incentivize new projects.
“The private market will need to step up to create such housing – social housing will not be able to meet the need on its own nor should it as a variety of types of housing will be needed – but potential landlords should be incented by an inflow of government funds that will help bridge the gap between what people can afford for rent given our local economy and what landlords need to charge to make the rental unit worth their while” she said.
Haliburton County Warden Brent Devolin said he would be attending meetings regarding housing this week and would be providing an update at that point on how this money will affect the local situation. Devolin is a member of the Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Joint Housing and Social Services Committee.