So, we’ve declared a housing and homelessness emergency in the City of Ottawa. Now what?
In addition to declaring a homelessness emergency, the motion called for the City to include aggressive targets in its refreshed 10-year housing and homelessness plan: to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2024 with a specific focus on Indigenous homelessness; to increase access to housing affordability; to preserve and increase the affordable housing supply; to prevent the occurrence of homelessness; and to ensure people are supported to achieve housing stability. (Note: The five urban Councillors commissioned this report to help guide the City’s 10-year Housing & Homelessness Plan to help guide the City’s 10-year Housing & Homelessness Plan. It provides a number of actions that can be taken to meet our targets.)
It also acknowledges that the City does not possess the financial resources to manage this emergency alone and calls on the Provincial and Federal governments to provide the City with an immediate increase in emergency funding and a substantial long-term funding plan to meet these needs.
In 2017 the Federal government announced a new National Housing Strategy (NHS) with the goals of reducing chronic homelessness by fifty per cent and reducing core housing need (households spending in excess of thirty per cent of their income on rent) by fifty per cent. We are now ready to move towards these goals, even exceeding them, but we cannot do it alone. The federal government must increase the funding for the NHS in their upcoming budget or we will fail as a country in addressing this emergency. One that will only be solved with political will and the funding to match.
Steve Pomeroy, Senior Research Fellow with Carleton University’s Centre for Urban Research and Education (CURE) has produced a paper that estimates the cost of meeting the NHS targets, and compares the funding allocations currently allotted by the Province and Federal government to the estimated annual cost to achieve the targets. It is well worth the read at: https://carleton.ca/cure/wp-content/uploads/CURE-Brief-10-Housing-and-Homeless-Emergency.pdf
The bottom line is the City of Ottawa is facing a shortfall of approximately $22m in capital and operating expenditures in 2020 in order to respond to the homelessness emergency rising to $67m in 2024. This assumes that the City continues to fund our own plan by $15m annually.
Anything short of this means that we are willing to leave thousands of women and men and youth living in shelters and sleeping outside, hundreds of children living in motel rooms, far too many women and children turned away from Violence Against Women shelters back into dangerous and often deadly circumstances and thousands of families unable to pay for basic essentials like food and clothing after paying their rising rental costs.
While much can be done though policy directions such as Inclusionary Zoning and programs such as Youth Futures to help prevent youth in more disadvantaged
communities from remaining in poverty (because, in the end, housing affordability and homelessness are a direct result of poverty and the growing gap in our city and country), it will take a significant increase in funding to make a difference for those who are falling behind. We must build new homes for people who are homeless, provide housing allowances to those who are at great risk of homelessness and support people who need it to keep their housing.
A National Housing Strategy without a significant increase in funding is not a strategy, it is a failure and one that we cannot afford.