What's Happening on Canada's Housing Front? - by Michael Shapcott (NHHN)

Nationally, Jim O'Dea (former chair of B.C. Housing) has been hired by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to help them prepare for the federal-provincial-territorial housing ministers' meeting in Quebec City from November 28 to 30. He is completing an extensive survey of municipalities across the country to create a list of possible housing projects. This document will be used by the FCM as a major lobby tool at Quebec City.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA) has also hired a consultant to do much the same sort of thing for the non-profit sector. They have already compiled information from a number of parts of the country.

The key message of FCM and CHRA for Quebec City will be that they have projects that are more or less ready to go and want the new program implemented as quickly as possible.

The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada has retained Bill Morris to work with other staff on political work in that sector.

The proposed federal program ($170 million in housing capital grants over four years) calls on the provinces to provide matching funding. One report from early September suggests that Ottawa is now prepared to go it alone, which - of course - dramatically reduces the new money available for housing (from a possible $340 million annually to as little as $170 million annually)

The news is not good on the provincial front. Here are some thumbnail points from the FCM's National Housing Policy Options Team teleconference call today:

British Columbia is looking at making 20 to 50% cuts in all government departments (except, the provincial government says, for education and health) in the coming years to meet the Liberals election promise of tax cuts and a balanced budget. B.C. has current housing commitments of $128 million annually, which will rise to $160 million when the projects in the pipeline are fully developed. Major new money from B.C. is unlikely.

Alberta recently announced that it wants to cut $1 billion from provincial spending to pay for additional tax cuts, making new spending unlikely in that province. However, on the positive side, provincial housing officials have said that they will work with the provincial municipal association to implement any new housing program.

The Saskatchewan government emerged from a recent government caucus retreat to announce that the economy is worse than they had thought and that this is "an inopportune time to ask for additional money" for new initiatives.

Ontario has also announced that it wants to make further tax cuts, which will require additional spending cuts. The province wants the feds to credit previous housing spending. One provincial housing official has even said that Ontario will be asking for credit for housing spending going back 10 years (that is, before the Harris government was elected in 1995). No new money is expected.

Quebec is looking to municipalities to participate financially in any new housing program. Both of the leading candidates for mayor in Montreal are committed to creating up to 1,000 new affordable rental units using the federal funding. The municipal election is coming up later this fall. The major provincial housing program - Accesslogis - is due to expire, but may well be renewed and could bring some new money onto the table.

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have also said much the same as Saskatchewan.

There are hopes that Manitoba and the three territories will bring some new money to the table. Historically, the territories have added more than $50 million to their housing spending over the past decade, while virtually every province has made cuts.

Cabinet authorization for the spending for the Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative expires at the end of this fiscal year. Delays in the roll-out of the program mean that projects are still in the pipeline, so HRDC is going back to cabinet for an extension.

The original homelessness strategy, announced in December of 1999, was to top up several existing programs aimed at homeless people, plus the newly created SCPI. This was supposed to be for temporary shelter only, but several good housing projects in various parts of the country have been funded with SCPI under the label of "transitional housing".

Plans are proceeding for the November 22nd National Housing Strategy Day of Action, being co-sponsored by the National Housing and Homelessness Network and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The day takes on an even bigger significance because of the timing just before the FPT (Federal, Provincial, Territorials) housing ministers' meeting.

The FPT meeting will see provincial and territorial ministers meeting for the first two days (November 28 and 29) and the federal minister will join them for the final day. The NHHN has asked for an opportunity to participate in the meeting, and a few other groups are considering making a similar request.