Federal budget will give Hamilton more affordable housing, advocates say

It was a dream local politicians and affordable housing advocates have had for 10 years. On Tuesday, it finally came true.

'Tools are in place to get on top of the issue': Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau arrives to deliver the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It was three words Hamilton housing advocates have been longing to hear for a long time — "national housing strategy".

And now that it's here, they say, it's the start of Hamiltonians having more affordable places to live.

The Trudeau government announced a plan in its budget on Tuesday to consult with communities and stakeholders to develop a national housing strategy.

A strategy would give cities — including Hamilton — regular money to build and maintain new social housing units. Ideally, that would include money to fix some of the vacant units sitting empty because the city can't afford to fix them.

I don't think we've seen anything like this in quite a few years. Maybe a generation.- Tom Cooper, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

It doesn't answer all of Hamilton's prayers, said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. But it's a great start.

Hamilton has 5,700 households on the social housing waiting list, he said. The Liberals announced $2.3 billion over two years for social housing in Canada, and that can't help but benefit Hamilton.

"I don't think we've seen anything like this in quite a few years. Maybe a generation," he said. "It's extremely positive."

Latest in a string of good news for Hamilton affordable housing

The federal budget is just the latest news that could ease Hamilton's shortage of affordable housing. This month, the province announced new forthcoming legislation around inclusionary zoning. That would give cities the ability to mandate that new developments include at least some affordable housing.

With all this effort, "this is a historic moment for Canadians and for us as Hamiltonians," said Renee Wetselaar, local housing advocate.

What the Liberals don't seem to understand is that borrowed money has to be paid back.- Rona Ambrose, Conservative party leader

Mayor Fred Eisenberger was pleased too. The city has wanted a strategy for about 10 years, he said.

"We can't expect that our waiting list is going to be resolved by this, but the tools are in place to get on top of the issue."

Chad Collins, Ward 5 councillor and CityHousing Hamilton president, called it "terrific news."

'A nightmare scenario'

Tuesday's budget will help seniors waiting for affordable places to live, he said. It will help First Nations people.

"It's just good news all around."

Not everyone was pleased with the budget. Conservative leader Rona Ambrose issued a statement panning the Liberals plan to borrow $113 billion over the next five years.

"This budget is a nightmare scenario for taxpayers who will be forced to pick up the tab for today's Liberal spending spree," she said.

"What the Liberals don't seem to understand is that borrowed money has to be paid back."

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