Ottawa shortchanged by province's new homelessness plan, councillors say
'I don't feel we're getting our fair share': Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe
The City of Ottawa's share of provincial homelessness funding for next year will be far lower than expected, after the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing changed how it allocates the funding.
Ontario recently announced a $190.5-million annual increase for municipalities in its Homelessness Prevention Program, of which Ottawa received $845,100.
That share is only 0.4 per cent of the new money — and an increase far below that seen by other municipalities.
"Many of us, when we first saw that number, we thought there maybe was a zero or two missing at the end of it," said Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.
"I don't feel we're getting our fair share, and I'm going to continue to fight and advocate for Ottawa's fair share until we get it."
City wants answers on new funding model
With two-thirds of Ottawa's spending to address homelessness reliant on the province, the city is pushing back against the decision.
Clara Freire, the community and social services interim general manager, told councillors staff are asking for another $18- to $20-million contribution, after comparing Ottawa's allotment with those given to other municipalities.
A report to council included a pie chart comparing the increase in funding across municipalities, with Ottawa accounting for a tiny sliver.
Prior to the increase, the Homelessness Prevention Program was worth $463 million, of which Ottawa's allocation was $47,619,500 in 2022-2023.
Freire said she wonders how the City of Toronto's funding increase could be worth 60 times more than Ottawa's.
"We would like to see the formula that was applied to Toronto so that we can understand, and also see the formula that was applied to Ottawa," she said.
Sutcliffe also said he's open to understanding the province's rationale but is not willing to believe that Toronto's situation is that much worse than Ottawa's.
"Our understanding of the situation is that the magnitude of Toronto's problem and the magnitude of Ottawa's problem are roughly speaking, proportionate to the population of the two cities," he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
"In the absence of an actual funding formula, which we haven't seen, we're simply saying give us an equivalent share to what Toronto is getting."
Councillors find situation 'absolutely devastating'
The City of Ottawa declared a homelessness crisis and emergency in January 2020 and the pandemic added further pressure to the system.
For one example, the most recent city update on the use of temporary emergency shelters was in February 2023, when just over 3,000 people stayed at least one night and just under 2,300 people stayed on an average night.
- Living in limbo: Inside Ottawa's temporary emergency shelters
- Pandemic-era temporary shelters still being used as demand persists
Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster said it remains "an absolute crisis in downtown Ottawa," describing a situation where people live in tents, stairways and rooming houses with "horrendous conditions."
If the city is provided with the additional funding, a multi-million dollar gap could still exist that would reportedly block the transition away from physical distancing centres and put the creation of additional housing at risk.
"We can't afford the loss of 54 units of supportive housing. We just cannot," Troster said. "They're telling the city that basically our residents can die in the street, rather than give us the funding from tax dollars to ensure that people are not suffering in this way anymore."
Other councillors said they felt similarly abandoned. Orléans West-Innes Coun. Laura Dudas called the situation "absolutely devastating."
"I wish this could just be chalked up to an accounting error on behalf of the provincial government. Sadly this is not the first instance in which this province has shortchanged Ottawa," she said.
Several suggested filling the funding gap with property taxes, but Sutcliffe cautioned against that as a possible solution for fear that it could set a bad precedent.
Ontario says updated model corrects past issue
Councillors also pushed the city to continue demanding the province share its math.
A spokesperson for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said in an email that City of Ottawa representatives had been provided a breakdown of the new model and debriefed.
"To be clear, Ottawa will be receiving a total of over $48 million annually through the updated Homelessness Prevention Program funding model. This is the second-highest overall amount for any municipality in the province," Victoria Podbielski said in the email.
"The new model was developed to more accurately reflect measures of local need."
She said the largest components of the needs-based assessment are the number of people experiencing homelessness and the deep core housing need.
"Ottawa received disproportionately higher funding than other municipalities with higher determined need," she said. "Under the updated model all municipalities will maintain or receive increased funding."