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

File photo
Surrey Mounties seeking dash-cam footage of Whalley road rage fight

Two men are alleged to have stabbed one another

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
No new Surrey school COVID-19 exposures reported overnight

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Police watchdog concludes Mounties didn’t shoot Fleetwood teen at strip mall

IIO finds tragic death of teenager ‘not the result of any actions or inactions’ by the Surrey RCMP

The many faces of Daon Glasgow. (Photos: Surrey RCMP)
Glasgow found not guilty of trying to murder transit cop in Surrey

Transit Police Constable Josh Harms was shot Jan. 30, 2019 at Scott Road SkyTrain Station

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read