Catherine McKenney would more-than-double the amount the city spends on housing and homelessness in 2023 and promises to end chronic homelessness within four years as part of a five-point plan they say will help make Ottawa a "city that works for everyone."
"It's getting harder to afford to live in our city," said McKenney at a platform announcement made Wednesday afternoon outside a multi-faith affordable housing complex in Barrhaven.
"Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home — families, students, low income folks, everyone. But that's not the reality in Ottawa right now."
McKenney's plan zeroes in on the most vulnerable, not only because it's the "moral imperative," but also because it's more cost-effective for the city in the long run for as many people as possible to have secure housing.
McKenney five key promises to address housing affordability are:
Ending chronic homelessness for the 500 individuals and 300 families who have been without a home for at least six months. Families, in particular, are often housed in motels, which are not only insufficient housing, but also can cost $3,000 a month. McKenney promises to spend an additional $20 million on housing and homelessness — up from the city's current spending of $15 million annually — although $5 million would be saved by moving families out of motels and into apartments. McKenney's plan involves building supportive housing for 250 individuals through a federal rapid housing program, and providing housing allowances for the remaining 250 individuals and families.
Building 1,000 non-profit homes in each of the next four years, a 30 per cent increase in what the city has built in the last few years, including supportive housing for those at risk of homelessness. These would be mixed-income, mixed-use, multi-generational and accessible communities, built on city lands near rapid transit, McKenney said.
Making sure Ottawa gets its fair share of the federal housing accelerator fund — which should be $108 million — to help expand Ottawa's housing supply, especially mid-rise buildings and housing near transit. McKenney told reporters that the money would be used to "tighten up" the development application process to make it faster to built homes in the private sector. They would prioritize building more green, affordable and accessible homes.
Preventing families and individuals from falling into homelessness by providing short-term rental allowances for those who are "just one paycheque away" from losing their home. McKenney would set up a hotline for tenants who are having issues meeting their rent.
Investing $5 million into the Ottawa Community Land Trust to help non-profit and co-op organizations to retain existing affordable housing.
Support for ending R1 zoning
In response to reporter questions, McKenney said they'd support getting rid of so-called R1 zoning — those are city rules that prevent anything other than a single family home to be built on a property. Getting rid of R1 zoning should make it easier and cheaper to build semis and triplexes in neighbourhoods, increasing the housing supply.
Hours before McKenney even made their housing announcement, Mark Sutcliffe's campaign sent out a news release criticizing the fact that as a councillor, McKenney voted against expanding the urban boundary last year, which Sutcliffe framed as voting against a "plan to build 23,000 new homes."
"We can build within the urban boundary," said McKenney, adding that not only is expanding the boundary bad for the environment, but costs taxpayers money. They also point to their record of voting for many hundreds of additional housing units in their own ward and across the city.
Sutcliffe, Bob Chiarelli and Nour El Kadri say they will release their full housing platforms in the coming days.
Mayoral candidates weigh in
It's no surprise that the 14 mayoral candidates are all addressing the issue and want to see more housing built, although some plans lack details on how that could be achieved. Most of them speak to the need to keep lobbying the upper levels of government to fund affordable housing and programs to help end homelessness.
Brandon Bay is running for mayor not because he expects to win, but because he hopes to "make some noise" about a few key issues, especially housing. He's like to see an end to R1 zoning in every neighbourhood and creating programs to incentivize more skilled labour to come to Ottawa.
He also wants to see more clear definitions of what counts as affordable, pointing to a recent proposal to add more housing to Lansdowne, which he says are too expensive for many people looking for housing. Bay is also interested in looking at moratorium on development charges for multi-unit housing, at least for a short time, to increase the supply of units and decrease the price.
Param Singh said he supports the city's efforts to bar the demolition of buildings with six or more residential units without a permit and plan to replace them, in an effort "to maintain affordable housing." He also wants to see more protection for tenants under the city's regulations.
In an email to CBC, Ade Olumide focused on investing in more harm reduction, in order to help those who may be experiencing homelessness. He wants to "expedite plans to convert empty downtown buildings to affordable housing and/or rentals."
Mike Maguire has said his priority is to expand the housing supply and options for different income levels, while also ensuring there are "sufficient transit options" for various housing choices.
Zed Chebib also wants to repurpose vacant buildings into affordable housing, as well as wanting to convert empty warehouses into shelters for the homeless. He's also in favour of changing the zoning to allow multiple units to be built on a single home lot.
And Bernard Couchman says he's reallocate the city's resources to help lower income people afford housing.