Cory Correia, CBC News, September 8 (with quotes from BCNPHA CEO Jill Atkey)
British Columbia is being significantly shortchanged by a major federal housing program that aims to boost the construction and renovation of affordable housing, recently released data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) suggests.
From 2018 until February 2020, only 0.5 per cent of $1.46 billion allocated through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) has gone to affordable housing projects in B.C.
The data was obtained by Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan through a request filed with the clerk of the House of Commons.
“What this data tells us is what we already know: British Columbia’s housing crisis is not getting the kind of help that we need from the federal government,” said Kwan.
“We’re still seeing the homelessness crisis in our community. We’re still seeing the housing crisis in our community. And in reality [the government’s] words, those nice words, do not match the real actions.”
Only two B.C. projects were listed as having finalized funding agreements out of a total of 23 across the country. Those two applications were for the construction of 66 units at a cost of $7.3 million.
In contrast, Ontario has had 12 projects approved for the construction or renovation of 59,228 units at a cost of $1.39 billion.
Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Yukon had no finalized funding for any of their applications, the data shows.
National Housing Strategy
The NHCF accounts for around one-third of the federal government’s planned spending for its 10-year national housing strategy.
Announced at the end of 2017, $15.9 billion was earmarked for the NHCF to provide financial contributions and low interest loans for the construction and renovation of affordable housing.
The government said the fund would help build 60,000 new affordable housing units, repair 240,000 units, and create 7,000 shelter places, 12,000 new affordable units for seniors and 2,400 affordable units for people with developmental disabilities.
The CMHC answered the questions posed by Kwan because it administers most program spending relating to housing affordability.
In response to criticism that B.C. isn’t getting its fair share, the office for Ahmed Hussen, the minister responsible for CMHC under the Ministry of Families, Children and Social Development of Canada says they’re making progress.
“Since 2017, nearly $2.5 billion has been financially committed to housing in British Columbia under the National Housing Strategy, to create or repair 13,427 units,” said a spokesperson for Hussen.
As of June, the minister’s office says, more than $190 million has been committed under the NHCF for the creation or repair of 2,420 units in B.C.
‘It is disappointing… frustrating’: B.C. housing minister
The application process for the NHCF presents its own challenges, critics say. CMHC says it includes more than 200 questions, and after an application is received and placed in a queue it can take as long as 289 days before a funding agreement is finalized.
But the released data lists an average turnaround time of 400 days, and with only 23 successful applications out of 436 in two years, applicants from the non-profit community are frustrated.
“It takes a very long time, an inordinate amount of time to get a decision made. Even the pre-application process is arduous and painstakingly slow,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.
“It takes several years to get housing built, but if the commitments aren’t even flowing under the co-investment fund, we’ve just kicked the can further down the road. And in the meantime we’ve got a quarter of a million renter households just here in B.C. alone who can’t afford their rent.”
Hussen’s office says it is looking at ways to improve the intake and prioritization process, which will improve efficiency and turnaround time.
“We know how urgent the needs are, particularly in B.C. It is why we are absolutely committed to working with CMHC to get funds out the door faster,” said a spokesperson for Hussen.
B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson says while the provincial government was pleased to hear the announcement of a National Housing Strategy back in 2017, the province needs the federal government to be an active partner.
“It is disappointing, and frankly frustrating, that to date the level of material federal support to address the serious housing needs of people in B.C. has not met our expectations,” said Robinson in a written statement.
“This is a national challenge, and meeting it will require the federal government to turn the strong statements they made in their national housing strategy into real funding commitments on the ground.”