Feds to help cities buy vacant properties for affordable housing initiatives – report

Mayors are urging for more support "while the opportunity is there in the marketplace"

Feds to help cities buy vacant properties for affordable housing initiatives – report
Duffie Osental

A federal plan to help cities buy vacant property for use as affordable housing is reportedly in the works.

According to a Canadian Press report, federal officials are “ironing out” the details of a plan that will help municipalities purchase buildings that have been put up for sale due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and use them for their affordable housing initiatives.

As winter approaches, cities are under increasing pressure to address overcrowding in emergency shelters and prevent the spread of coronavirus among its residents. Last week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) urged the federal government to “rapidly repurpose on-sale private buildings as permanent, non-profit housing for vulnerable Canadians.” 

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“We’ve seen vulnerable people leaving crowded shelters to stay physically distant on the streets or in tent encampments,” said Bill Karsten, president of FCM and a councillor for the Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia. “To keep more people safer, municipalities have responded by leasing motels and repurposing arenas as costly safe shelters. But we urgently need more sustainable housing solutions for vulnerable Canadians—and we’re ready to work with the federal government to do what it takes to get them housed as fast we can.”

Sources have told Canadian Press that the federal government is considering “whether to announce a program before their throne speech later this month or to wait and include it in the speech.”

“We think this is a no-brainer,” said Edmonton mayor Don Iveson told Canadian Press. “If we're going to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to get through this pandemic, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could end homelessness, reduce the likelihood of an outbreak in this community of vulnerable people, at precisely the time that a second wave is the greatest risk?”

“If I was the government… I would like to be seen as moving now on some of these things while the opportunity is there in the marketplace,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told Canadian Press. “And the federal government could say, look, not only did we move at wartime speed during the pandemic to make this money available to the cities, but they produce the housing most importantly at wartime speed.”