Ottawa Housing Policy/Practice

City of Ottawa housing policy and practice;

Connect the dots between the two

By Dennis Carr

Dennis Carr has been a resident of West Wellington for over 30 years. He has 27 years’ experience creating affordable housing and social facilities in Ottawa and Vancouver. He is a past Development Manager for Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, a local non-profit housing agency. From 2009 to 2014 he was Assistant Director, Social Infrastructure, for the City of Vancouver. Dennis Carr is also the recipient of the 2016 Canadian Housing and Renewal Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

“The wait time for housing is up to five years and in 2015, only 34 new affordable housing units were created, the lowest since 2005.”

Sunday 26 March 2017 — On March the 4th Cornerstone Housing for Women launched its project to convert the former Sisters of Jean D’Arc Institute at 373 Princeton Avenue in Westboro into a home for 42 low income women. It was a day of celebration for Ottawa’s affordable housing community.

Joining Cornerstone for the announcement, and to express their support, were Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, MPP Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, local Councillor Jeff Leiper and local community association representatives.

The project is being made possible by a unique partnership between the Sisters of Jeanne d’Arc, who wanted to leave a legacy in the community and a private sector developer who will create infill housing on the remainder of the property. In addition to its own equity, Cornerstone will receive $5.3 million in federal and provincial funds.

The importance of community association and municipal political support for an affordable housing project cannot be overstated. However, what also needs to be stated is that despite its political support for the project, the City of Ottawa has actually reduced the resources it puts towards affordable housing in the City.

Last month, City officials announced plans to write to the federal housing minister asking the federal government to triple their funding so the city can build 1,300 new units. And rightly so because in 2015, 6,800 individuals used Ottawa’s emergency shelters and 10,100 applicants were on the waiting list for affordable housing.

The wait time for housing is up to five years and in 2015, only 34 new affordable housing units were created, the lowest since 2005. What the City doesn’t mention is that despite having jurisdictional responsibility for affordable housing, it has significantly reduced the resources dedicated to new supply.

Data compiled from recent budget documents indicate that while the city contributed between $4.0-Millions and $5.0-Millions of its own funds towards the creation of new units between 2012 and 2014, it doesn’t plan to contribute any of its own funds between 2015 and 2019. Additionally where the City once acquired land and provided its surplus land for affordable housing, it no longer land banks and is actually selling off its social housing properties.

The City’s land development corporation which has a mandate to achieve strategic plan objectives through real estate development, recently listed several properties for sale, including multi-unit residential and mixed-use sites that could be used to further the City’s long term social infrastructure needs. Particularly egregious is the sale of a Randall Avenue family housing property once on the City’s list of affordable housing sites, notwithstanding that in 2015, 39% of all shelter clients were members of a homeless family! This sale contradicts Council‘s own Housing First policy for surplus City lands.

“Where will the 1,300 new affordable units be created if the City of Ottawa can’t provide land and financial resources?”

Cornerstone Housing for Women is a great example of the resiliency of Ottawa’s affordable housing sector but if the City is going to meet its own objectives, it needs to provide better support. Council’s failure to connect the dots between its policies and practices will result in lost opportunities to build the critical social infrastructure needed to shape the future of our city.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 edition of News West.