The city’s first financial plan for housing outlines spending needed to reduce homelessness

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A joint committee made up of a majority of Council members approved a one-of-a-kind financial plan for the City of Ottawa to increase housing availability and reduce homelessness.

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Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday that the staff’s proposed long-term financial plan for housing services will give the city more credibility when it seeks funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Watson said when cabinet ministers asked how much the city needed for housing priorities, city officials “had to get around that a bit” because there weren’t any exact numbers in them. books.

With a financial plan, “they’ll know we’re serious when we meet them,” Watson said at a meeting of the finance and economic development committee and the community and protective services committee.

The 15-4 vote in favor of recommending the financial plan to the board on March 10 came after nearly four hours of questions and debate by board members, as well as presentations from four public delegates.

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The financial strategy responds to a housing and homelessness plan for 2020-2030 approved by the council last year.

The 10-year plan, which is priced at $ 1 billion, aims to reduce homelessness by 25% and end chronic homelessness. Another goal is to create between 5,700 and 8,500 affordable housing units through the construction of new units and the provision of subsidies.

The city intends to pay about 21 percent of the costs of the housing and roaming plan, while relying on top governments to cover the rest.

For the municipal government, that would mean an average annual commitment of $ 21 million over 10 years. An additional $ 81 million per year, on average, would be required from higher governments.

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The city’s finance and housing staff have developed a financial plan that they believe is affordable and realistic for the city government. They propose to gradually increase the municipal budget financed by taxes over four years in order to reach a new level of base funding.

Ray Sullivan, Executive Director of Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corp. and chairman of the Ottawa Social Housing Registry, warned council members that there was not enough attention to preserving existing housing, in addition to building new homes.

“We have to do both, but the funding commitment to maintain what we got is just as important,” Sullivan said.

Housing advocates have also pushed the city to act faster to create affordable housing, especially as the pandemic is emerging.

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John Dickie, president of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, highlighted a significant increase in the vacancy rate in Ottawa during the pandemic while urging the city to establish master leases and secure available units.

Dickie predicted that as more people receive COVID-19 vaccines, there will be an increased demand for rental housing, especially in downtown areas, as people resume their practices. ‘before the pandemic.

Some councilors were skeptical of the city’s planned spending and priorities for huge sums of money.

Com. Housing and homelessness council liaison Catherine McKenney, who was one of four councilors to vote against the financial plan, questioned the city’s intention to allocate millions of dollars to housing transition instead of using the money to provide permanent housing.

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The financial plan provides $ 30 million to develop new transitional housing for families and women and reduce the city’s reliance on hotels and motels for temporary homes.

Donna Gray, the city’s executive director of social and community services, described a “continuum of care,” with the city offering support programs through transitional housing before providing families with housing supports and installing them. housing.

About 12,500 households were on a central waiting list for affordable housing at the end of December 2020, committee members learned.

Shelley VanBuskirk, the associate executive director who oversaw the housing case at Town Hall, told members early indicators suggest homelessness is on the decline in 2020, although a full analysis of the data would be carried out in the spring.

Part of the decrease could be attributed to people sleeping homeless to avoid contracting COVID-19 and new federal benefit programs, VanBuskirk said.

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