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

Vernon Fire Rescue Services work to put out a structure fire in an abandoned house on Highway 97 and 39th Avenue Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
UPDATE: Vernon house fire under control

Single-lane traffic remains in effect on Highway 97 in both directions

Vernon once again boasts the lowest gas prices in B.C. Oct. 20, 2020. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon boasts lowest gas prices in B.C.

Gas going up, and down, throughout the North Okanagan

COVID-19 test tube. (Contributed)
test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health launches online booking for COVID-19 tests

Testing is available to anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 confirmed at Kelowna Francophone school

École de L’Anse-au-sable is not affiliated with local SD23

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Paul Singla walks towards his Penticton home on Heather Road in 2018 after CBSA officers raided it. (File photo)
Singla and Toor make first court appearances on immigration fraud

The Okanagan men had their cases adjourned until 2021

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast a ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Surrey RCMP cruisers outside a Newton townhouse Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Toddler in hospital, woman dead following stabbings at Surrey townhouse

Police say two-year-old was among victims found at townhouse complex in the 12700-block of 66 Avenue

Most Read