City lays out 10-year plan to pay for affordable housing

The City of Ottawa has laid out a decade-long plan to spend nearly $200 million to build affordable housing, and wants upper levels of government to match those municipal dollars. 

Ottawa says it needs $565M over decade to tackle chronic homelessness

The City of Ottawa wants to eliminate chronic homelessness entirely, and laid out a plan that needs $565 million over 10 years to build 5,000 new units. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

The City of Ottawa has laid out a decade-long plan to spend nearly $200 million to build affordable housing, and wants upper levels of government to match those dollars. 

The city's first-ever financial roadmap for how to pay for housing was approved in a 15 to four vote at a joint meeting Tuesday of the committees responsible for finances and for social services.

Ottawa is trying to tackle its housing emergency, and wants to eliminate chronic homelessness entirely. Several hundred single people are homeless more than six months of a year and the number of families, especially, has spiked to more than 300 from about 70 a few years ago.

The city forecasts needing nearly $565 million over 10 years so Ottawa Community Housing Corporation and other local partners can build 500 units a year, and another $30 million to build two new facilities — one for families and one for women. It has laid out how to pay its third, about $20 million a year, and wants to convince the Ontario and federal governments to pitch in their shares.

City budgets in recent years allocated $15 million for building housing, a big jump from years prior, but that was "cobbled together" and the city depleted reserves to make it happen, said chief financial officer Wendy Stephanson.

"Having this long-term commitment really allows us to plan forward and develop that pipeline [of new construction]," said the city's director of housing Saide Sayah. 

Mayor Jim Watson, who co-chaired the committee meeting, said he couldn't count how many calls and letters he has sent upper levels asking for help with housing and homelessness.

"We've been asked the simple question, 'what is the actual ask?' And we've had to skate around that because we've never really nailed [it] down," he said.

Making a dent

The Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) urged the city not to wait for funding from upper levels of government.

"The city would only do a third of what you would otherwise do, but that's better than doing zero," said executive director Ray Sullivan. "We can't afford to wait."

The CCOC and Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa both urged the city to tackle the housing crisis as one system instead of a collection of projects. Sullivan acknowledged that's challenging because of the "siloed pots of money" from upper levels of government.

Coun. Catherine McKenney, council liaison for housing and homelessness, pointed at various statistics for shelter use and families.

"The numbers are not changing," McKenney said. "What are we asking for that is going to make that shift?"

'Positive step forward,' says mayor

McKenney and a few council colleagues also drilled staff about the $20.6 million annual average the city would spend under the plan, unconvinced new money would truly be added to the $15 million of 2021. 

Staff explained future budgets would set aside $14.6 million in capital dollars for housing, including an increase in base funding, but waived development charges would take the city's contribution higher.

"This is a very positive step forward, and of course it's not enough. It's never enough," said Watson. "But it's a lot better than what we've been doing over the last decade or so, in terms of increasing the budget, increasing the number of units and increasing the number of people we're helping."

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