Today’s federal budget confirms the housing promises made last year (about $2 billion in new spending, mostly for new homes and repairs to existing housing), but adds nothing new (see page 236 of the main budget document). The budget says: “In total, over 3,500 projects are underway across the country to improve housing conditions for some of the most vulnerable in our communities, including seniors, single-parent families, recent immigrants and Aboriginal households.” This is a significant change from the report tabled in the Commons by federal housing minister Diane Finley in November in which she reported that about 3% of the federal dollars had been committed.
As noted in our initial analysis of the 2009 federal budget, about half of the federal dollars that were promised were to go for social housing repairs (about 5% of Canadian households), with the rest being divided among seniors, on-reserve Aboriginals and a small amount for people with disabilities. The remainder of Canadians who are precariously housed (including families, youth, Aboriginal people living off-reserve, people living in substandard private rental housing, single people) got no new help last year – and they were also left out of this year’s budget.
The details of the projects “underway” are not provided by the federal government. The bulk of the funds are flowed through the provinces and territories, which makes it even harder to trace the dollars. The Ontario Auditor General reported in November that the Ontario government was unable to properly account for hundreds of millions in federal housing transfer dollars. The Ontario Auditor General also noted that more than half the new homes funded by the federal-Ontario program had rents that were unaffordable to households on affordable housing waiting lists.
The bottom line: Good news that the feds will keep the housing funding promises that they made last year, bad news that there is no new help for the millions of Canadians who are precariously housed – and it remains to be seen just how many new homes will actually be created by the federal government’s budgetary promises, and whether those homes will be truly affordable to the people who need the housing the most.