Mayors to pressure Ottawa to address affordable housing crisis

Ottawa is rushing to launch its massive second phase of infrastructure spending this fall but is facing concern from municipal leaders that housing money will be squeezed by other federal priorities.

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Toronto Mayor John Tory and other big-city mayors will announce on Friday that they are calling on Ottawa to devote $12.6-billion to address what they say is a national crisis in affordable housing. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa is rushing to launch its massive second phase of infrastructure spending this fall but is facing concern from municipal leaders that housing money will be squeezed by other federal priorities.

Canada’s big-city mayors are gathering in Toronto on Friday to highlight their worry that Ottawa is preparing to launch a major 10-year-infrastructure program before a promised national housing strategy is in place.

At issue is how the federal Liberals will define social infrastructure, a broad category that the government said will receive $20-billion over the next decade. The category will include spending on affordable housing, but it will also fund other areas such as child care and cultural and recreational infrastructure.

Toronto Mayor John Tory and other big-city mayors will announce on Friday that they are calling on Ottawa to devote $12.6-billion of the $20-billion fund to address what they say is a national crisis in affordable housing.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs the big-city mayors caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said it’s great that Ottawa is moving quickly to launch its second phase of infrastructure spending, but mayors fear that a decade of housing funds could be locked in at insufficient levels.

“Precisely because it’s moving so fast, we are concerned about the window closing,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal minister responsible for housing and social infrastructure, will speak at the mayors summit and The Globe and Mail has learned he will announce a new measure aimed at spurring the construction of 4,000 affordable rental housing units. Mr. Duclos has a mandate to develop a national housing strategy, but it is unclear when that plan will be ready or what it will include.

Officials at all three levels of government have confirmed that negotiations on Phase 2 of the social infrastructure fund are focused on how the $20-billion will be divided and what formulas will be used for spreading the money across the country.

The FCM is proposing that the formula for federal housing money should be based on factors such as local affordable housing demand and homelessness rates.

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