Invest in Non-Profit Housing: Deputation to City of Ottawa Planning Committee

In the past year, Ottawa’s housing prices have increased by 25-30%. Housing has become an investment, a commodity to build wealth. We have a housing market that incentivizes speculation, leading more and more people who rent vulnerable to losing their homes. Housing is not being treated as a basic human right, nor a fundamental tool to build a vibrant city. The people who work here are increasingly unable to live here.

All of this only serves to exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis declared by Council almost 2 years ago. Sadly, with the onset of the pandemic, and a housing market out of control, the housing crisis has only gotten worse. We lose 7 affordable units in the private market for every one affordable unit built in Ottawa. We are losing ground. 

This is not limited to the inner core of our city. I get just as many calls from people living in the suburbs, Orleans, Kanata, about to be evicted, and unable to find anything affordable as I do from people in the core. Community partners are reporting more and more instances of housing loss and homelessness in the suburbs. This is a city-wide challenge we are facing. 

A critical tool to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis is the development of more non-profit housing. It is clear that we need housing supply not susceptible to this increasingly speculative market. Maintaining and increasing a strong non-profit housing supply is critical to restoring balance within our local housing market. 

I commend past investments by the City of $15 million in consistent capital funding for affordable housing, and I urge you to consider an increase of capital funding in the 2022 budget to $38.5 million, reserved solely for non-profit housing. 

As you know, that number is what we currently spend on emergency shelters every year. If we want to turn this crisis around, we need to invest the same, if not more, in the long-term solutions to housing loss. We do this knowing that over time, the need for emergency support does decrease, as affordable housing increases. 

Every emergency shelter already provides affordable supportive housing and are working hard to make this transition themselves from emergency supports to long-term solutions. But the nonprofit sector needs your help to do this. We need to create more opportunities for shelters and other non-profits to build long-term housing solutions.

The potential for cost savings by investing in the creation of more non-profit housing is significant. Ottawa Police Services’ own data tells us that $25 million dollars are spent every year for homelessness-related policing calls. Using a housing first approach, Alberta’s 7 major cities saw reductions in police interactions by 25% and EMS interactions by 46%. 

The Canadian At Home/ Chez Soi project - the largest study on Housing First in the world, determined that for every $10 invested in a housing intervention, over $21 were saved. In other words, investment in housing can equate to a 200% return on investment for taxpayers through cost savings

The recent decision to reduce the increase to this year’s police budget and increase investment in community services is a positive step in this direction. However, there is more room for reallocating resources to permanent solutions rather than crisis management. 

An increase in this budget to $38.5 million in capital funding for non-profit housing is more than simply the creation of more affordable housing. It signals a change in thinking - a recognition that we must invest in permanent solutions rather than maintaining a crisis.

Communities are seeing reductions in homelessness across the world. The most inspiring example is Finland. The country is extremely close to eradicating homelessness entirely. In a little over a decade, the country has taken a 180-degree turn and gone from funding crisis responses to homelessness to an entirely housing-focused strategy, through mass expansion of non-profit housing. 

The change in approach has not only led to virtually ending homelessness, but also created a housing market not rising at extreme rates, as is happening in most other major cities in the world right now. 

We can turn the tide on the housing crisis, but it requires a shift in approach. Non-profit housing not only supports people experiencing homelessness, but it also serves to bring balance to the market as a whole, creating a more affordable, liveable community for everyone. 

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