Reality check: Correcting Minister Solberg's monetary musings…

Federal housing and homelessness minister Monte Solberg is keen to portray his government as generous and compassionate when it comes to those who are poorly housed or have no home at all. Here’s what Minister Monte Solberg had to say in a letter to the editor in the July 16, 2007, Toronto Star, in response to a column by Toronto streetnurse Cathy Crowe: Government hasn’t forgotten the homeless

The federal government has a practical plan to provide affordable housing and combat homelessness. Our new $270 million Homelessness Partnering Strategy is a program with provincial and municipal governments and the not-for-profit sector to provide local solutions to local problems.

In the 2006 budget, we also invested $1.4 billion for housing trusts for the provinces and territories to be used to address their immediate housing needs. As well, through the Affordable Housing Initiative, we invest $1 billion annually for affordable housing across the country.

Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada,

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The minister’s enthusiasm is to be commended, but his numbers need correcting.

Everyone who is homeless or poorly housed must have been delighted to read federal minister Monte Solberg’s enthusiastic support for housing and homelessness investments. However, there needs to be a reality check.

The $270 million he cites in homeless funding over two years is a continuation of a previous program – with spending frozen at 1999 levels (even as inflation, growing homelessness and an expansion from 10 to more than 60 communities has cut into the spending power of those dollars).

The $1.4 billion housing trust he mentions was authorized by the 2005 Parliament. Minister Solberg’s Conservative Party voted against it, so it’s great that he has come to love this investment, even though it’s only for two years.

Minister Solberg refers to the Affordable Housing Initiative as “$1 billion annually”, but it is a one-time only allocation made in 2001 ($680 million), then topped up in 2003 ($320 million).

What Minister Solberg doesn’t mention is that most federal housing programs, downloaded to the provinces starting in 1996, are locked into annual funding cuts. Literally billions of dollars that should be re-invested in affordable homes are being lost.

Minister Solberg should work to convince Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that the next federal budget needs to include a permanent investment in affordable housing – something that everyone from the United Nations to the homeless family in the local shelter have been urging for years.