Budget 2016 restarts investment in housing with more funding, consultation on national strategy

The New Jubilee: 126 units

Social housing in Vancouver: The New Jubilee

Housing activists paging through today’s budget will focus on Ottawa’s commitment to begin consultation on a renewed National Housing Strategy, as well as the doubling of investments in affordable housing, as signs that Canada is finally ready to resume investment in the housing sector.

Given the Harper government’s absolute disinterest in the housing crisis, today’s announcement is a welcome shift of direction — the Affordable Housing Initiative will double to $504 million over the next two years — but housing is expensive.

The budget’s pledge to create an Affordable Rental Housing Innovation Fund would produce 4,000 units over four years at a time when Metro Vancouver estimates it needs to build 5,000 units a year in this region alone to meet demand. This demand might be met by the private sector if appropriate tax changes were made in Ottawa.

The budget also pledges that:

“Going forward, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will also consult with stakeholders on the design of an Affordable Rental Housing Financing Initiative to provide low-cost loans to municipalities and housing developers for the construction of new affordable rental housing projects. Up to $500 million in loans would be available each year for five years.

“This initiative would encourage the construction of affordable rental housing by making low-cost capital available to developers during the earliest, most risky phases of development. This initiative could support the construction of more than 10,000 new rental units over five years.”

These are welcome moves, but have to stand as a down payment on the real work — and much larger investments — likely to emerge from a National Housing Strategy.

Altogether, the budget promises $2.3 billion over two years, with about $739 million going to tackle the desperate conditions in First Nations and Northern Communities. They need all that, of course, and more.