Liberals roll out social housing funding to keep 55,000 units in system

OTTAWA — Social housing providers reliant on federal funding will receive some short-term financial help starting this week to eventually keep 55,000 units available for low-income families.

The government’s pledge of $38 million over two years from a promised $500 million fund under the national housing strategy buys the Liberals time to set the parameters for how the rest of the money will be spent.

Eligible co-ops had their new agreements mailed this week.

The Liberals hope they can change the way housing providers are funded as their federal operating agreements expire in the coming years and ensure no net loss in the stock of federally administered community housing.

Under the first phase of what the Liberals call the “community housing initiative,” housing providers with operating agreements that will expire before the end of February 2020 won’t see a change in their subsidy until the end of March 2020.

At that point, the Liberals want to move to a new funding scheme to subsidize rents, but plan to consult non-profit and co-operative housing providers about the design of the long-term program.

The announcement marks one of the first program details coming out of the national housing strategy unveiled in November, which aims to build 100,000 new affordable housing units and repair more than 300,000 aging units.

A key policy in the housing strategy was the creation of a new housing supplement that would be tied to a person, not a place. The cost of the portable housing benefit would be $4 billion, but the plan requires provinces and territories to pick up half the costs and won’t roll out until 2021.

The Liberals’ overall housing strategy rests on territorial, provincial and private sector partners picking up about $8.6 billion in costs to go with new and previously promised federal spending.

The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada called on federal, provincial and territorial governments to “act swiftly to protect more households in need of assistance.”

The rental assistance program wrapped into Wednesday’s announcement was a bit of a compromise for the government.

The fund was a way to calm housing providers worried they were going to lose funding if tenants opted for private sector, but also allowed the Liberals to push changes to how the federal government pays for social housing.

The Liberals say housing providers will need to meet a few requirements in order to receive funding, including minimum standards for affordability.

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