City draft budget doesn't do enough for climate, housing emergencies, advocates say

By Natasha Bulowski

Despite the city declaring both climate and housing and homelessness as emergencies, the 2021 draft budget fell short of providing the kind of investment needed to tackle these big, complicated issues, advocates and some councillors say.

On Wednesday, the city proposed $15 million to create new affordable and supportive housing units, the same amount as in 2019 and 2020, even though 80

different organizations signed a letter to the city last month saying at least $20 million would be needed to tackle the emergency.

City draft budget doesn't do enough for climate, housing emergencies, advocates say

On the environmental front, the budget proposed $1.5 million to plant 125,000 trees and $3 million to enhance and retrofit facilities to reduce emissions and energy use, among other small investments.

“The first time the $15 million happened, it was truly transformative,” said Khulud Baig, spokesperson for the Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget, an advocacy group with a focus on social issues. “But with this year being the housing and homelessness emergency, I think we need to see that leadership from the city to increase those investments.”

For Peter Tilley, chief executive officer of the Ottawa Mission, any money is always better than nothing.

“But in this case we declared a state of emergency in January, even before the pandemic, so it’s not a surprise that those from our sector are saying there needs to be much more,” he said.

The federal government also recently announced it would be giving the city $32 million for immediate housing initiatives, which Tilley said is a great investment in the interim. However, that money doesn’t necessarily address the need for long-term housing in Ottawa, he said.

With 12,000 residents still on wait lists for affordable housing, 2,000 of which are currently being housed in motels and shelters, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said the proposed $15 million is very disappointing.

“At the very least we should be spending $36 million,” said Fleury. “We should match the amount that we’re spending to house people in motels and shelters.”

Fleury, Baig, and Tilley agreed that COVID-19 has added pressure to an already precarious housing situation.

“So the question is: does that [$15 million] even respond to the COVID housing pressures that have emerged through this period?” asked Fleury. “I don’t have that answer.”

When it comes to money earmarked for environmental issues, Robb Barnes, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, echoed Tilley in saying that some money is better than none, but characterized the proposed budget as having a very “business as usual approach.”

“The city is just not serious about climate action at this stage,” said Barnes. “It talks a good game but we’re not seeing any kind of budget commitments that’s commensurate with the stated goals of the city and the city’s own analysis of what needs to be done.”

One thing Barnes would like to see is a diversion of funds from road expansion and maintenance into energy evolution, but that has yet to happen.

In a written statement, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said: “I am disappointed that we are allocating more additional money to asphalt (road resurfacing) than we are to housing and other critical social services in the city budget during a climate emergency, a housing emergency and a global pandemic. This is not the budget and bold vision that people are asking for.”

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