Politics

Ottawa targets shovel-ready projects for quick wins from $13B social housing fund

A newly launched federal housing fund is looking for early wins in a bid to help people with developmental disabilities, low-income seniors and women fleeing domestic violence.

Fund will dole out loans and grants over the next decade

The federal government's new $13.2-billion social housing fund is set to target some 300,000 affordable housing units for repair or construction. (Keith Srakocic/The Associated Press)

A newly launched federal housing fund is looking for early wins in a bid to help people with developmental disabilities, low-income seniors and women fleeing domestic violence.

The $13.2-billion fund is the largest chunk of cash under the Liberals' $40 billion national housing strategy unveiled late last year, but will require other levels of government or the private sector to kick in cash for projects.

The money will be doled out through a mix of low-interest loans — valued at almost $8.7 billion — and $4.5 billion in non-repayable grants that the government hopes will spur construction of 60,000 new, affordable housing units and pay for repairs to 240,000 more units to ensure they stay available for families in need.

Those units are expected to include at least 4,000 shelter spaces for survivors of family violence, 7,000 affordable units for seniors and 2,400 affordable housing spaces for people with developmental disabilities.

Projects that meet or exceed accessibility and energy efficiency standards will be pushed to the front of the line for funding consideration. Officials also are going to prioritize projects that are advanced enough in planning that they could be approved for funding in the coming months.

Although the cash is being spread out over the next decade, Ottawa's plan isn't to specify allocations by province or territory. The minister in charge of the strategy says the funding will be based on need.

"The Canadian government will invest where there is a need to invest and where the social, environmental and economic impact is demonstrably significant," Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in an interview.

The federal money begins to flow this year, unlike some provincial spending that will start next year.

Duclos said the housing co-investment fund, among other items to be rolled out this year from the national housing strategy, has been in the works since he and his provincial and territorial counterparts met two years ago.

"We're now able to do things relatively quickly," Duclos said.

Getting money out the door soon could also give the Liberals a political boost during their re-election bid next year.

At the Toronto announcement of the fund on Wednesday, Liberal MP Adam Vaughan implored local voters to support candidates in upcoming elections who would maintain funding for projects whose financing could be subject to changing political whims.

The federal Liberals have looked to avoid that fate for their long-term plan, trying to lock in 10-year funding agreements with each province and territory by the end of the year so they can take credit in next year's federal election for bringing the national housing strategy to life.

The first of those deals was signed on Monday with Ontario — a 10-year deal valued at $4.2 billion aimed at protecting 130,000 affordable housing units in Canada's most populous province.

The terms of the agreement suggest the Trudeau Liberals used the electoral and fiscal needs of their provincial brethren to create leverage as federal officials hope to pry similar terms from the remaining provinces and territories.

The deal with Ontario limits the ability of the province to carry over unspent money from one year to the next, so provincial governments can't delay spending to artificially decrease budgetary deficits. It also provides few avenues for the province to opt out of the agreement if a future government wants to renegotiate.

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