Manitoba signs on to housing deal, months after MP's accusation of inaction on national housing strategy

The Manitoba government signed on to a massive influx in cash for public housing on Tuesday, months after vocal criticism from a Liberal MP over how long it was taking.
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, left, shakes hands with Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson at an announcement Tuesday afternoon. The province signed on to a bilateral $450-million agreement to create more affordable housing in Manitoba. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The Manitoba government signed on to a massive influx in cash for public housing on Tuesday, months after vocal criticism from a Liberal MP over how long it was taking.

"Sometimes it takes a little bit longer, but today is really the culmination of great work and co-operative supports between the federal and provincial governments," provincial Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Tuesday, in announcing $450 million to bolster social and community housing in Manitoba.

Stefanson made the announcement at Siloam Mission in Winnipeg on Tuesday, along with Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who singled out the province on a national call-in radio show in February for refusing to take the federal cash offered for housing programs.

"We have a Manitoba government that is refusing to take federal dollars to house people," Vaughan said in February on CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup.

Stefanson described the negotiations Tuesday as a complicated process that simply takes time.

The deal spans a decade, with the provincial and federal governments each agreeing to spend $225 million over the course of the contract.

Public advocacy helps

Vaughan, the parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said Tuesday that in his February comments, he was chiding his own government as well as Manitoba's.

"We push in public sometimes because we know in private we agree," Vaughan said. "We just have to get the document signed and get the dollars flowing, get the projects going."

Liberal MP Terry Duguid speaks at Tuesday's announcement. (Ian Froese/CBC)

In 2018, Manitoba agreed to involvement in the Liberals' national housing strategy, which was announced two years ago, but took more than a year to negotiate the bilateral agreement spelling out its financial commitment.

The 10-year agreement announced Tuesday will support community and social housing in Manitoba. Priorities related to housing repair, construction and affordability will be emphasized, a news release from the province said.

More specifics about the type of housing projects being pursued will be detailed in an upcoming provincial housing strategy, which Stefanson said will be released shortly.

"We'll look at Rent Assist. We'll look at ensuring that affordable housing is there for Manitobans when they need it," she said.

The agreement is on top of $269 million in federal money pledged through a 10-year social housing agreement. 

The announcement was one of several from the province on Tuesday, ahead of a pre-election blackout that begins Wednesday.

Child welfare system at the root: MP

Vaughan acknowledged that Manitoba is "unique in their configuration" for housing, and that's why negotiations for things like Manitoba's portion of Ottawa's $40-billion national housing funding are not realized overnight.

"You cannot spend half an hour on the housing conversation in Manitoba, let alone 10 minutes, without understanding the child welfare system," the member of Parliament said.

"I think one of the most pressing issues for our country is to make sure those children are housed properly."

Kirsten Bernas, chair of the provincial working group of the Right to Housing Coalition, said the delay in signing the deal is tough on people currently experiencing homelessness or living with housing insecurity.

Still, "we're just happy that finally an announcement's been made, and really looking forward to getting going to see what the details will look like and what our action plan will be here in Manitoba," the affordable housing advocate said.

Bernas wants 300 affordable housing units to be built annually in Manitoba.


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