Feds, Ontario re-announce, yet again, 2008 housing funding

The Ontario and federal governments announced a combined investment of $481 million in affordable housing funding on November 8. This is not a new investment, but the re-announcement of funding that was first promised in September of 2008. Here are some background notes from the Wellesley Institute to help you understand the latest housing news.

Tuesday’s media release is a re-announcement of the same funding that was first announced in September of 2008. Back then, the federal government announced a five year extension (with no increase in funding, despite inflation, population increase and an increase in housing need across the country) for the Federal Low-Income Housing Repair Program (RRAP), the Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI) and Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Back then, they said that the funding would flow to provinces / municipalities / community entities for the first two years in the same way that it had been administered previously, and that they would “review” the programs before determining the final three years of spending.

Last year, the federal government re-announced the homelessness funding for the final three years.

In July, the federal government, provinces and territories re-announced the final three years of the AHI and RRAP funding – saying that an extension of the federal-provincial-territorial affordable housing framework agreement would be the mechanism for flowing the dollars for the final three years. But, as before, a bilateral housing deal would be required between the federal government and each province / territory to start the flow of funding.

Ontario and the federal government signed the bilateral housing deal sometime soon after the July framework agreement was announced, but the feds decided not to publicly announce the funding agreement. Several senior officials in the Ontario government confidentially told the Wellesley Institute that the federal Conservatives were reluctant to make any announcement that might gain any political credit for the provincial Liberals in the lead-up to the recent provincial election campaign. So, partisan politics appears to have delayed the re-announcement of the bilateral deal.

Under the July agreement, RRAP has ended and provinces / territories have the “flexibility” to determine how the funding dollars will flow. This raises concerns for housing advocates about whether all the federal housing funds are, in fact, being dedicated to housing initiatives.

In 2009, the Ontario Auditor General conducted an audit of provincial social housing spending – most of which originates with the federal government and flows through the province to municipal service managers. The Auditor General noted that the province could not properly account for hundreds of millions of federal housing dollars that were allocated to the provincial government for affordable housing purposes. The Auditor General noted that some of those funds were designated by the province for “constraint” – whatever that is. The relative lack of transparency as federal housing dollars flow through the provinces to municipalities raises concerns about whether all the funds are actually flowing to affordable housing, as intended in the agreements.

Multiple re-announcements of the same funding has been a common practice by governments of various political stripes. Expect even more press releases as the federal dollars are allocated to a particular local project. While it may have the effect of seeming to inflate the actual dollars on offer, in fact the meagre funding that was originally announced in 2008 has simply been re-announced time and again.

The “good news” in this announcement is that the federal government – which has cut $1.2 billion from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation housing spending this fiscal year as part of the “scheduled termination” of certain federal housing initiatives – have apparently not cut the funding first promised in 2008 and re-announced several times since then.