More support needed for non-profit and affordable housing builders, says WoodGreen in response to federal budget

WoodGreen Community Services opened this affordable housing for seniors building on Gerrard Street near Leslie Street in April of 2022.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The federal government tabled a budget that many translated as a shift towards a more fiscally responsible, conservative approach last month.

This strategy came as a direct response to the federal government’s projected $40.1 billion deficit in 2023-24—$10 billion more than had been anticipated.

Although the budget’s dental care plan and grocery rebate attempts to provide relief for low-income households, many have complained that it does little to address the affordability and housing crisis Torontonians are facing today.

But Beaches-East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said that while the current level of inflation has made it “incredibly important for the government to exercise fiscal discipline”, the $13 billion dental expansion plan—as well as rebate which provides eligible families with up to $467—is proof that the Liberal party is not abandoning its obligations.

“There is definitely more to do, including work to realize a new disability benefit,” said Erskine-Smith. “But with these new measures coming on the heels of an expanded workers’ benefit and significant reductions in childcare fees, affordability has and continues to be an overriding focus.”

Some, though, have highlighted the budget’s failure to address problems faced by the City of Toronto such as the $933-million budget deficit spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts.

Mwarigha, WoodGreen’s Vice-President of Housing and Homelessness Services, expressed disappointment that the federal government did not provide significant additional investments to support non-profit housing providers attempting to deliver affordable housing.

“WoodGreen has actively called on the federal government to accelerate and shift funding within the National Housing Strategy towards non-profit development projects that can effectively address the problem of housing for those experiencing homelessness, people with vulnerabilities like seniors, families with low incomes, and/or those with mental health conditions,” said Mwarigha in a news release in response to the federal budget that was delivered on Thursday, March 28.

In 2017, the federal government announced a 10-year National Housing Strategy (NHS) which aims to provide Canadians all across the nation with affordable housing. The following year, the federal government signed a bilateral agreement with Ontario to set terms under the National Housing Strategy. The agreement requires Ontario to develop an action plan that outlines how Ontario will use NHS funding every three years.

However, while addressing Queen’s Park earlier this month, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark stated that there was no support for the City of Toronto and “no clarity on any of the provincial or territorial requests on housing as part of the National Housing strategy” as he said the province is being shortchanged $480 million by the federal government.

This funding shortfall, according to the provine, is due to the fact that Ontario has 44 per cent of Canadian households in core housing need but receives only 39 per cent of the funding set aside for this issue.

“One of the avenues for non-profit developers to replenish affordable housing is through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, where WoodGreen has called for an increase in grant ratios,” said Mwarigha.

But Canada’s Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland recently defended the federal government’s decision not to release more funds. While addressing the March budget, she stated that it lacked in housing initiatives because funds allocated from last year are yet to be spent by provincial governments.

She was referring to the $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund which aims to supply 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2024-25 across Canada’s largest cities. This application-based fund was allocated in last year’s budget but officially launched only last month.

“The new federal housing accelerator will help, but it is not enough money considering $4 billion spread across the province doesn’t go too far,” said Erskine-Smith.

However, he told Beach Metro Community News that although he believes both the federal and provincial government need to do more to build the much needed housing supply, the “federal government has provided significant support to the City of Toronto in recent years” both in the form of capital infrastructure as well as pandemic relief.

“It’s also fair to say that the province is ultimately responsible for municipalities and that the province has failed to competently manage this responsibility or provide the appropriate funding supports,” said Erskine-Smith.

Mwarigha believes that given the current state of the housing market and lack of affordable housing available, non-profit housing providers like WoodGreen will be unable to build housing for low-income Canadians “without additional investment in the National Co-investment Fund”.

“Non-profits need significant and low-cost upfront capital in order to create feasible development business plans and attract all levels of government and/or private partnerships to develop affordable housing,” he said.

“The government must support non-profit and affordable housing developers by returning the grant ratios through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund to their previous levels but not at the cost of renovation and repair of existing units.”

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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