Ottawa budgets $1.5-billion extension of rapid housing program, but stops short of changes cities wanted

By: Victoria Gibson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star
The federal government is extending its  billion-dollar rapid housing initiative, budgeting $1.5 billion to carry  the program into next year — but Ottawa’s new fiscal plan stops short  of promising the kind of rule changes that local officials had hoped to  see.
The program, which funds modular  housing projects and conversions of existing properties into affordable  units, was originally designed as a one-time effort — so the extension  unveiled in Monday’s budget was welcomed by municipal representatives.
But absent from the budget was the kind of rule rejig that several cities hoped to see.
In Peel Region,  officials have said it doesn’t make sense to use modular construction  for smaller projects. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM)  had asked Ottawa to allow non-modular construction, and there was desire  in Toronto to be able to preserve rooming houses.
No  such changes were outlined in the Liberals’ fiscal plan. It also  doubled down on the program’s strict, 12-month deadlines, despite calls  from some municipalities for more flexibility.
“We  really believe it’s important to get some housing created quickly,”  Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said, citing an urgent need to ramp  up affordable housing.
Coun. Ana  Bailao, Mayor John Tory’s affordable housing advocate, says she’s  understands the urgency, but is still hopeful the Canada Mortgage and  Housing Corporation will hear out their concerns.
“Sometimes there’s a delay. You need to have that flexibility,” she said.
FCM  president Garth Frizzell welcomed the $1.5 billion, but said for Ottawa  to meet its goal of ending chronic homelessness, it would need to  invest far more. “When you find a program that works really well, like  rapid housing did in its first iteration, you take it and you double  down.”
Among  other housing proposals in Monday’s budget were a vacant home tax for  non-Canadians and non-residents, a pilot project aimed at reducing  veteran homelessness, and funds to transform empty commercial spaces  into housing.