Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen listens to a question during a news conference Tuesday April 21, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Liberals pledge $1 billion for cities to buy motels, hotels for rapid-housing program

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen expects most of the money to go out the door before the federal fiscal year closes

The federal Liberals plan to spend $1 billion over the next six months so cities and housing providers can buy properties being sold because of the COVID-19 pandemic and use them to keep people from becoming homeless.

The details of the program unveiled Monday fill what was seen as a gap in the Liberals’ decade-long national housing strategy.

The Liberals say the program will create 3,000 new affordable housing units across Canada, and want all the funds committed by the end of March 2021, when the federal fiscal year finishes.

Municipalities, provinces, territories, Indigenous governing bodies and agencies as well as non-profit organizations can tap into the money that for now appears to be a one-time program.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said the program will only take applications for projects to quickly build or buy units that would also serve vulnerable populations like women fleeing domestic violence, or people at immediate risk of becoming homeless.

He said he expects most of the money to go out the door before the federal fiscal year closes, and promised quick turnaround times on applications.

“It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the economically smart thing to do,” Hussen said in an interview.

“All the costs associated with the services provided to people on the street, the criminal justice costs, the health costs, policing — all of that is way more than the cost of that project. So we have to be smart as a country to always look for more innovative solutions to house people rapidly.”

Hussen wouldn’t say if the money would become an annual commitment, but it came two days before the Liberals unveil their throne speech that is expected to include new pledges on affordable housing.

The government considered the property acquisition program for months as a way to keep people from falling into homelessness heading into the winter, with temporary shelter measures for the COVID-19 pandemic set to expire.

Some cities like Toronto and Edmonton have rented hotel rooms to accommodate people while shelter capacity is reduced to allow for physical spacing, but they’re badly stretched financially.

On top of the money for purchases, Ottawa plans to sink an additional $237 million into the federal homelessness strategy that could be used to find additional emergency shelter space.

Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said the increased risk homeless people face in contracting COVID-19 could become worse with a second wave of the pandemic.

The two funding announcements give communities the resources they need to move quickly to purchase buildings they’ve been using, like hotels, or possibly convert shelters into permanent housing, he said.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Bill Karsten said in a statement that the overall funding is a good foundation, calling for “rapidly scaling up” from what he called important first steps.

“From Toronto to Edmonton to Calgary to Victoria, we have people living in tent encampments trying to maintain physical distance,” the Halifax councillor said.

“With winter, flu season, and a possible second wave of COVID-19 all bearing down, going slow is simply not an option.”

What’s needed as a next step is a retooling of existing programs to refocus the national housing strategy towards the short-term strains caused by the pandemic, said Leilani Farha, global director of The Shift, a housing-rights group.

She joined a group of municipal leaders, who call themselves the Right to Home Municipal Working Group, that asked governments on Monday to better protect renters in arrears and facing eviction, and small landlords who have a borne much of the economic impact from the pandemic.

“We’re seeing some really interesting movement from government, but I’m fearful that … they’re not grappling with the whole (picture),” Farha said.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

Shay Baker, 17, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 21 and is wanted on outstanding warrants. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for high-risk missing youth

Shay Baker, 17, is wanted on outstanding warrants

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

The M’akola Housing Society is looking to build two new residences in Sooke to help provide affordable accommodation for local Indigenous people. The projects were granted nearly $1.1 million toward their construction through the Regional Housing Trust Fund. (Photo courtesy M’Akola Housing Society)
Regional Housing First Program strikes another chord in Greater Victoria

Affordable housing partnership grants will help house over 100 people on income assistance

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read