Coronavirus: Federal government implemented plan to purchase vacant properties for affordable housing – National


Federal officials are tweaking the details of a program to help cities buy properties left vacant due to the coronavirus pandemic so they can quickly create affordable housing.The government has been considering the home ownership program for months as it seeks to prevent people from falling into homelessness as winter approaches, with temporary housing measures set to expire.

This could lead to overcrowding of existing emergency shelters, or push more people onto the streets and create the conditions for the new coronavirus to spread among those already vulnerable.

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Sources who participated in discussions with federal officials about the scope of a program, who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail private conversations, say the Liberals plan to announce a program ahead of their more Throne Speech. late this month or wait and include it in the speech.

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The mayors of Canada’s largest cities hope for the first.

City leaders say they could use the money quickly to buy buildings that will soon be sold, rather than having to wait months or years for new affordable units to be built.

“We think it’s obvious,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.

He added that cities are hoping the Liberals act this fall to help local groups “secure these properties and get people off the streets before they experience another winter and a pandemic, which is only a short time ago. ‘a morally unacceptable option – leaving people out in the cold in a public health emergency. ”

The idea was first broached by the Liberals months ago and have shown a keen interest in conversations with mayors and housing providers over the summer.

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Representatives from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which oversees much of the ten-year national housing strategy, held one-on-one consultations in July and August to determine logistics.

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Among the challenges: how to quickly approve a housing provider for financing, in a market where others might go and buy hotels, motels, warehouses or multi-unit residential buildings.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities this week asked the Liberals for just over $ 4 billion in new grants to finance the purchase of up to 22,000 units.

The proposal is one of many proposals presented to the government as it searches for ideas for an economic stimulus package. Federal departments have been asked to identify potential spending items that could be part of an economic update or budget later this fall.

Iveson, who heads FCM’s Big City Mayors Group, said the buying program could help local housing providers find distressed properties at reduced prices. He said housing vulnerable populations like the homeless would also reduce health care and policing costs.

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“If we’re going to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to get through this pandemic, wouldn’t it be great if we could end homelessness, reduce the likelihood of an epidemic in this community of vulnerable people, at the precise moment a the second wave is the greatest risk? ” he said.

Cities like Edmonton rented hotel rooms at the start of the pandemic to offset public health restrictions that limited the capacity of emergency shelters. Some of them have almost eliminated homelessness for a few weeks.

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One of the main concerns of government officials is how to get money out quickly, especially in places like Toronto where the cost of renting is very high.

“If I were in government… I would like to be seen as one of those things now as the opportunity presents itself in the marketplace,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in an interview.

“And the federal government could say, look, we not only acted at war speed during the pandemic to make that money available to cities, but they are producing housing, especially at war speed.”

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Tory said it would cost his city less to acquire buildings to accommodate the homeless than to rent hotel rooms indefinitely.

City budgets have also been crushed by COVID-19, as revenues from public transit services collapse and recreation programs have to close. Cities that want to spend more on housing will have to decide where to cut services or capital projects, or increase property taxes.

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The Liberals pledged help to cover the shortfall weeks ago, but Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said his municipality’s coffers had yet to see the money, which is subject to negotiations with the province.

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Her city’s homeless census in March counted some 2,000 people on the streets or in shelters. Stewart felt that number had increased as people’s incomes plummeted and strained their ability to keep up with rent – a situation he said is playing out in other cities across the country.

Stewart called an emergency board meeting on Friday to start a process to determine how much it could cost to rent or buy buildings to deal with Vancouver’s homelessness problem. He said in an interview ahead of the meeting that he just wanted an indication from the federal government on his intentions so his city and others could plan.

“It’s a national problem. COVID is a national emergency so we need the indication early, ”said Stewart.

“I needed the money yesterday.”

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