News / Ottawa

Ottawa housing experts support strategy, await details

Yesterday's announcement of a National Housing Strategy was high in ambition, but somewhat lacking in detail.

Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star

Ottawa housing advocates and experts are optimistic after the government announced its long-awaited National Housing Strategy yesterday—detailing billions of dollars of planned spending and an ambitious goal of cutting homelessness in half—but are still waiting for a more specifics.

“I’m really glad to see that the government has taken such a strong stance,” said Marie-Josée Houle, executive director of Action Logement, a housing organization in the city. “We have an epidemic here in the city, and it’s not being addressed in a comprehensive way.” 

That sentiment was not uncommon, but Houle, like many others, could not say what the immediate impact would be—because so much of the specifics of the plan are yet to be determined. 

“I think it was largely a communications document,” said Nick Falvo, a housing and homelessness expert in Calgary who until recently taught at Carleton University. “The numbers weren’t put together how a public policy researcher, or professor, might’ve put them together.” 

The most obvious benefit that Houle was able to point to was money for newly-built units. The government threw around figures to say as many as four times the number of units would be built. Houle estimated that could amount to around 2,400 new affordable units in Ottawa—but since the specifics of investment in new builds remains unclear, she couldn’t say for sure. 

Though significant, that will only be a start: according to the city, there were 10,502 households on the waiting list for affordable housing, and only 22,500 affordable housing units in Ottawa. 

“We will certainly qualify for all of those [programs],” said Tim Aubry, a housing and homelessness professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Ottawa. “We don’t know how it’s going to be divied up.” 

Critics have pointed to the backloading of the spending, most of which takes place after the 2019 election.

Falvo said that makes sense, since there will still be a lot of negotiations that need to take place with the provinces. The government’s strategy included portable housing allowances—essentially, money to pay your rent—but how those interact with existing social programs like Ontario Works remains to be seen. 

In an emailed statement, Shelley VanBuskirk, director of housing services with the city said: “The City commends the Government of Canada for their leadership in regards to yesterday's announcement of Canada's first ever National Housing Strategy. They have articulated a compelling vision and set ambitious goals through their commitments to Canadians.”

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