Mayors say the housing crisis is “disastrous”, “desperate”. Is Ottawa doing enough?

The mayors of two of Canada’s fast-growing cities say the housing crisis their residents face is “desperate” and “disastrous” and are encouraging all levels of government to work together to resolve them as quickly as possible.

In a joint interview with Mercedes Stephenson broadcast Sunday on The West BlockCalgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and London, Ont., Mayor Josh Morgan said they support federal funding programs dedicated to building new housing, but added that more needs to be done to improve the situation.

“There’s no time to waste here,” Morgan said.

Gondek and Morgan give similar explanations for why their cities face a housing crisis: interprovincial migration driven by people leaving jurisdictions where prices are higher; international immigration, including foreign students and refugees fleeing wars in Ukraine, Afghanistan and elsewhere; and growing local labor markets that attract workers.

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“It’s really kind of a perfect storm,” Gondek said.

She said that since the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities people face in housing, “we’ve taken in a lot more people, more than 60 people a day if you do the math, and we’re not We simply cannot continue to live.” pace.

“So we’ve really come to this tipping point.”

A City of Calgary report released this year noted that the city’s population has increased by 3 per cent since last spring, representing “the largest annual population increase in Calgary’s history.” . London was the fastest growing metropolitan area in Ontario in 2021 and remained in the top three last year, according to Statistics Canada data.

Morgan said the number of homeless people in his city has increased from 300 at the start of the pandemic to about 2,000 today. In Calgary, Gondek said 245 families are currently in need of housing.

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“The housing situation is very desperate,” Morgan said.

The Liberal government has begun making housing announcements as it faces criticism and falling poll numbers. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Ottawa was removing the GST on the construction of new rental apartment buildings – a measure Trudeau first promised during the 2015 election that brought the Liberals to power. power.

The day before, London was announced as the first city in the country to sign a deal with the federal government under the $4 billion National Housing Acceleration Fund.

The city can leverage $74 million in federal funds through its proposal to allow up to four housing units to be built on a single property, even in low-density neighborhoods, and to build high-density developments without the need for rezoning.

Morgan said the federal funds will build an additional 2,200 units on top of the 9,400 units already committed over the next three years.

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“(The funding) will really allow us to take things to the next level,” he said.

The Acceleration Fund was first announced in the spring 2022 federal budget, but applications were not accepted until July. Morgan said he and city staff worked hard to ensure the application was filed quickly.

During last Wednesday’s announcement, Trudeau blamed municipalities for the fact that it took 17 months to get a single project approved under the program. He said London was the fastest city to respond to federal calls for plans that eliminate obstacles such as zoning rules that slow approval and construction processes.

“I don’t think one partner can say they blame the other,” Morgan said. “I think we all have a shared responsibility in this area.

“This means that the federal government, the provincial government, the municipal government, the building sector and the non-profit sector, and of course the financial sector, all have a role to play in the creation of housing.

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Gondek said Calgary has created “a very strong application” for the Housing Acceleration Fund that she hopes will be approved quickly.

City council is currently deliberating on a revamped municipal housing strategy aimed at improving affordability and availability. Many of the measures aim to align with federal calls to remove barriers to construction, such as exclusionary zoning.

Last Thursday, Gondek posted on social media a letter she received from Housing Minister Sean Fraser, which explicitly linked approval of Calgary’s housing funding request to meeting the priorities outlined in the housing strategy. city ​​housing.

“We will never solve Calgary’s housing crisis if it is not legal to build the homes needed to meet the present moment,” Fraser wrote in the letter published by Gondek on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“(In order) to obtain a positive decision from me regarding your application, you must end exclusionary zoning in your city.”

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Gondek did not respond to Fraser’s request during the interview with Stephenson, but she said the money Calgary could receive if her request is approved “would have a significant impact on the lives of many Calgarians” facing experiencing homelessness or having difficulty finding housing.

“There will be many more needs and we need to work together as three levels of government or we will never be able to solve this very big problem that we have,” she said.

“But it’s a very good start.”

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that Canada will need an additional 3.5 million new homes by 2030 to restore affordability. Trudeau has not committed to this goal.

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Gondek and Morgan agree that municipal leaders need to be part of conversations with their provincial and federal counterparts to tackle the housing crisis together. This means putting partisanship aside and not blaming any level of government.

According to Gondek, the stakes are simply too high.

“This is incredibly serious and we need to act quickly,” she said.

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