Turning tide against homelessness will cost millions, councillor says

Increasing the amount the city pays to emergency homeless shelters and asking the province to bring its basic income pilot to Ottawa are among the multimillion-dollar recommendations being presented by Coun. Mark Taylor Thursday at City Hall.

Coun. Mark Taylor's proposals would significantly boost funding to emergency shelters

A homeless man begs for change at the Mackenzie King OC Transpo station in Ottawa in 2017. A number of recommendations are being proposed today by Coun. Mark Taylor to improve the city's affordable housing and homelessness situation. (Christian Milette/CBC)

Increasing the amount the city pays to emergency homeless shelters, asking the province to bring its basic income pilot to Ottawa and rebuilding family shelters are among the multimillion-dollar recommendations being presented by Coun. Mark Taylor Thursday morning at City Hall.

Council's community and protective services committee is set to discuss where the city stands halfway through its 10-year housing and homelessness plan. The committee will consider a staff report on the progress of various affordable housing plans, which is supposed to set the stage for a policy "refresh" later this year.

Coun. Mark Taylor wants more money to be given to homeless shelters in the city, along with other recommendations. (CBC)

However, Taylor, who Mayor Jim Watson named his special liaison on housing and homelessness in August 2016, brought an extensive list of ways to improve homelessness to the committee Thursday morning.

The Bay ward councillor, who Watson also appointed deputy mayor, said he consulted with well over 30 organizations in the housing sector and spoke with people who have experienced homelessness.

Recommendations could cost millions

His 41-page report listed 10 recommendations — some of them quite ambitious — for accelerating the city's progress on homelessness.

Here are some of them:

  • Give more money to emergency shelters. The city pays shelters a per diem of about $44 a day, which Taylor argues isn't enough to pay for the services shelters now provide. The report doesn't say how much the per diem should be, but states every dollar the daily rate is increased would cost $650,000.

  • Get the mayor to ask the province to make Ottawa a basic income pilot community. Under the program, a basic income replaces other poverty-reduction programs that often come with lots of red tape and strings attached. The government makes unconditional payments and recipients decide how to spend it, whether it's on better housing, food, education or job training. The pilot was rolled out in four Ontario communities a year ago.

  • Build new family shelters. The two city buildings that operate as family shelters "are in a state of degradation that significantly limits their effectiveness," according to Taylor's report. The cost to address this is estimated at more than $16 million.

  • Build affordable housing at LRT stations. The report recommends putting housing at Tunney's Pasture and 440 Albert St. (the former Ottawa Technical High School) — which are both owned by other levels of government and are Confederation Line LRT stations. The report also suggests affordable housing at the future Clearly Station site, which is planned for phase two of the rapid transit plan.

  • Buy existing homes on the open market. To fast-track the supply of affordable housing stock, Taylor suggests buying private homes for those with few social support needs. The idea is that the city, perhaps through its housing arm, would pay the down payment and the mortgage over the years with rent from tenants.

  • Recognize that Indigenous homeless people have distinct needs. Housing services and programming should be "developed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people," according to the report. Taylor also suggests more cultural sensitivity training for non-Indigenous homeless service agencies.

Other recommendations include negotiating a lower hydro rate for social housing units, increasing the amount of rental subsidy provided by the city, and increasing the number of social service workers to support those struggling to stay housed.

Funding support would be needed

The report recognizes many of the suggestions would require provincial and even federal funding to become reality.

However, it's unclear exactly what Taylor's mandate is, as his presentation at a committee of council is unusual.

While it is the mayor's right to designate a councillor to a special role, it's odd in this circumstance because there is a housing department at the city that would be expected to do the work.

It's not known yet what heft Taylor's recommendations will carry. But as he has been backed by the mayor's office, it's possible there is some political will to carry out some of the recommendations.

The meeting continues Thursday morning, where a number of public delegations are expected to give their thoughts on the housing and homelessness situation in Ottawa.