Wednesday, Nov 29th - Planning & Housing Committee Budget
Good Morning Chair and Members of Committee,
As you know, the Alliance to End Homelessness represents over 75 agencies working in the housing and homelessness sector in Ottawa. On behalf of our members - we commend you for the biggest increase in the capital budget for affordable housing since 2014. This increase is more than just additional money, it’s a signal that this Council is prioritizing the need to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis.
We’re also encouraged by the introduction of the vacant unit tax this past year as a new source of revenue for affordable housing. This funding is vital to our ongoing efforts to provide long-term affordable housing options for people in our community, and I encourage you to ensure all of it is used for affordable, non-profit housing.
We know that the only way to truly end homelessness and tackle the housing crisis in our community is through non-profit housing. This will be the most cost-effective use of our resources to create truly affordable units in perpetuity. The private market simply cannot deliver the level of affordability needed to ensure everyone is housed in a sustainable way. A one bedroom in Ottawa is $2000/ month. CMHC data from 2021 shows that for an Ottawa household making $82,000 a year, the absolute max they can afford is $2060, let alone if a household needs more than one bedroom.
The housing and homelessness crisis is no longer impacting those who have low and very low incomes. It is impacting middle-class households unable to get into home ownership. It is impacting students unable to find affordable rental. It is impacting seniors, unable to downsize because there are no affordable, appropriate options. It impacts families struggling every month as they choose between rent and food. And it continues to impact people experiencing homelessness where the housing crisis is increasingly a life or death issue. Serious investment in non-profit housing is critical to reversing this trend.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Housing Renewal Association released a report showing that if Canada reached the OECD average of non-profit housing stock of 7%, we would add between $63 - $167 billion to the economy. Non-profit housing is the smartest return on investment we can make.
In previous deputations, I’ve cited the common 1:7 ratio, for every 1 new unit of affordable housing, we lose 7 low-cost private market rentals. Sadly, the new numbers are in and they are much, much worse. In Ottawa, we lose 31 affordable units for every new one built.
We’re losing units far faster than we can possibly build. We’re not even treading water, we’re drowning. The only way to combat this seriously is through increased funding for non-profit housing, and specifically for non-profit acquisitions.
An acquisition means that your door price goes from $550,000 to $350,000. It is cost-effective. It grows non-profit stock without the lengthy timeline of a new build. It provides opportunities to leverage additional equity for more non-profit housing.
And in many cases, these buildings are already filled with people who have lived there for years and are paying very low rent because the unit has not turned over. These are the households with very few if any private market rental options. They are at serious risk of homelessness should they lose their housing due to a demoviction. As much as housing people experiencing homelessness is critical, ensuring that people stay housed is equally important to reduce further flow into the shelter system.
Over the next number of years, Ottawa will lose many existing shelter beds in our system because of buildings reaching the end of their life cycle. This along with projected increases of inflow into the system means that we will be hundreds of beds short. I know in moments like these, when the City has declared an Emergency Shelter task force and we are seeing higher demand than ever before, that we want to plan for the worst case scenario.
Respectfully, if we do this, we are planning for failure. We are planning to not hit our targets, and we are planning on homelessness only growing. Part of ending homelessness actually means believing that it can end and building our policies around that belief.
In that vein, I urge you to further increase the capital budget to $30 million dollars. The time for ambition for affordable housing is now. The alignment and commitment from other levels of government are the highest they have been in 40 years. More money at every level means we can build at scale.
This is doable. It requires smart planning and strategic investment. Non-profit housing, both new builds and acquisitions, are the smartest forms of investment we can make in our City’s response to homelessness. Thank you.