Affordable housing initiative marks 15 years in Ottawa

The Multifaith Housing Initiative, an Ottawa non-profit that provides affordable housing to low-income families in the city, celebrated 15 years in operation Sunday.

Overcoming long wait lists still the Multifaith Housing Initiative's main obstacle

Ottawa's Multifaith Housing Initiative marked 15 years providing affordable housing to the city's residents with a celebration at Ottawa City Hall on Sunday. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

An Ottawa charity that provides affordable housing to low-income families in the city marked its 15th anniversary Sunday.

The Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) was formed in 2002, and currently houses between 300 and 400 people at four different sites around the city.

Tackling the long wait lists for affordable housing in Ottawa continues to be the agency's main struggle, according to Suzanne Le, the agency's executive director.

"We have over 10,000 households sitting on a list waiting for affordable housing in the city," Le told CBC News ahead of a Sunday interfaith service at Ottawa City Hall to mark the milestone.

"There are a thousand shelter beds, of which most of them are full ... so we have a real homeless situation in the city. And a lot of it has to do with how high our rents are and [the] availability of affordable housing stock."

The Multifaith Housing Initiative currently owns or operates nearly 140 rental housing units in Ottawa, and this year they finished building a 98-unit housing project in Barrhaven. 

But there are still many more families waiting, and children who live in substandard housing are particularly vulnerable, said Lindy Samson, chief medical officer at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

"We know those kids have much higher incidents of preventable or accidental injuries," said Samson, one of the speakers at Sunday's service.

"We also know that they get exposed to environmental toxins that can actually affect the way their brains can develop."

With the Barrhaven facility complete, the MHI is preparing to break ground on a new facility for homeless veterans at the former CFB Rockcliffe airforce base.

With files from Kimberley Molina