News / Ottawa

Federal land availability could give Ottawa a social-housing advantage

The 2017 budget promised that the government is open to giving municipalities federal land at low cost for affordable housing projects.

Federal owned properties are illustrated on a Google Map in purple. The city has six times the amount of federal land than other large municipalities, including Vancouver and Toronto.

Google Maps

Federal owned properties are illustrated on a Google Map in purple. The city has six times the amount of federal land than other large municipalities, including Vancouver and Toronto.

The federal budget’s promise to provide land at low cost for affordable-housing projects could give the national capital region a distinct advantage in shortening wait times for those in need.

Last week municipal politicians and housing advocates praised the budget’s $11.2 billion dedicated to housing initiatives.

Within that allocation was $202 million set aside over the next 11 years to expand a program called Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, which doles out federal land for new affordable housing.

The sheer number of federal properties in Ottawa could make a real difference, according to the city’s homelessness liaison Coun. Mark Taylor.

“I would argue we stand to gain a little bit disproportionately,” he said. “The federal government owns a lot of land coast to coast to coast, but in the national capital they tend to own a lot of land.”

Ottawa has several multiples of the amount of federal land found in other large Canadian municipalities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary. The government’s federal land database lists properties totalling 24,313 hectares of land and 1,777 buildings within city limits.

The majority of those properties are occupied, leased out or are classified as greenspace. It’s the underused land in already built-up areas — close to transit — that offer opportunity.

“Any land will offer us opportunities for new builds and to create those homes that are so required,” said Stephane Giguere, CEO from Ottawa Community Housing, the largest provider of subsidized housing in the city. “If you look at land acquisition for affordable housing, we are always looking at land that could also be serving private interests.”

There are currently over 10,000 people on Ottawa’s subsidized-housing waiting. The average wait time is five to seven years, according to Giguere.

Land in desirable built-up locations close to transit comes at a premium cost for both commercial developers and non-profit housing.

Coun. Taylor said the land at 289 Carling St., which is currently being transferred by the federal government to the city for a supportive-housing development, is a good example.

“It’s not a field out in Barrhaven,” he said. “This is a place where once we build supportive housing people who live there are going to be in the community and they will be close to supports.”

The land at Carling is worth an estimated $7 million; the government is willing to pass it on for $1, instead of market value.

Taylor said the land at Tunney’s Pasture, west of downtown, is another example of a valuable property that the federal government could consider for the program. It was previously seen as land to be sold off for condos, but the changing government priorities could mean it’s made available for subsidized housing instead.

“Now all the meetings begin in a frenzy with their staff, our staff, figuring out what this means,” said Taylor.

“The next step for [the federal government] is to signal to us which properties they want to divest of. I don’t have a list of properties that we would like; they’ll give us a list of properties they want to give up and we’ll work with them to see which ones are appropriate for housing.”

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