CBC: Housing blitz seeks to match homeless with landlords

By Sarah Kester. Photo by Jean Delisle, CBC

The City of Ottawa is embarking on a housing blitz with the aim of finding at least 100 available units for tenants who are currently homeless, a goal it's hoping to achieve by the end of September.

The city, in partnership with the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa and the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, is asking property owners with

available units to sign up online. The initiative will then try to match the landlords with prospective tenants. 

In January, Ottawa declared a housing emergency. According to Kaite Burkholder Harris, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness, COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, with more people choosing to live on the street instead of risking crowded shelters.

"We know folks have actually been feeling really unsafe or scared to go to shelters," she said. 

Kaite Burkholder Harris, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness, says the city must provide stable housing for residents who are currently homeless, which would prevent crowding in shelters.

Higher vacancy rate

Coun. Catherine McKenney, Ottawa's council liaison for housing and homelessness, said with fewer university students expected to return to the city this fall, the vacancy rate is higher right now.

"They have those units available, and we can match them with tenants and with rent supplements so that people can move in and afford to keep their unit."

McKenney said that can give homeless people the boost they need to get their lives back on track.

"As soon as people have good stable housing, other parts of their life improve," McKenney said. "They're just able to stabilize their lives and as they move on, the rent supplement becomes available for someone else."

Coun. Catherine McKenney says with fewer university students returning to Ottawa for the fall semester, there are more rental units available. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Burkholder Harris said the alliance has been working around the clock to respond to the housing emergency presented by COVID-19, and is now looking at creating a long-term plan.

"We're sort of reaching a point where we can actually put our heads above water and focus on sort of a bigger picture piece," she said. 

"Ultimately it's the anticipation of, you know, we cannot deal with a second wave of coping with overcrowded shelters."

Kaite Burkholder-Harris, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelesness, says the pandemic has shown the importance of having private spaces, something that congregate living settings often don’t provide. 1:10

Potential landlords are encouraged to fill in a survey detailing what type of units they have available and the amount they're looking to lease them for. 

McKenney said the program is targeting landlords who may have been counting on renting to students in the fall, but said the city will also reach out to larger landlords.

While the goal is to find 100 units by the end of September, McKenney is hoping to surpass that number.

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