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

Matthew Wedman was selected in the 2019 NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
Kelowna Rockets MVP inks deal with Charlotte Checkers

Matthew Wedman was the Kelowna Rockets 2019-20 MVP

(Osoyoos Fire Department)
Osoyoos Fire Department knock down car fire near house

Blaze was ‘really close’ to becoming a structure fire

Colin James put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. But his Okanagan tour for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. (Photo by Terry Farrell)
COVID-19 cancels more Vernon, Penticton, Cranbrook concerts

The Contenders and Colin James postponed until 2021

Canadian Horizons is taking steps to develop a 320-unit residential neighbourhood at 1050 Spiller Road, northeast of the City of Penticton. (Canadian Horizons photo)
Penticton Indian Band opposes Canadian Horizons development

Proposed residential development will remove the protected rights of the syilx Nation, says PIB

This picture taken in yesteryears shows how popular the Naramata public beach has been over the years.
(Naramataslow)
It does take a village to save a beach

Nearly $600K raised so far to preserve Naramata park

Vernon Fire Rescue Services and Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP were called to a report of an electrical fire at the emergency response centre operated by Turning Points Collaborative Society on 37th Street Sunday, Oct. 18, just before 5:30 p.m. The fire displaced shelter residents who have been set up with services at the Vernon Recreation Complex. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Vernon shelter residents find refuge in hotels, motels, recreation complex after fire

Electrical fire at Turning Points Collaborative Society’s emergency response centre on 37th Street

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna man charged after allegedly stealing senior’s car

Elderly woman’s car was stolen while she was shopping

Salmon Arm RCMP say residents have been receiving calls from fraudster claiming to be with Publishers Clearing House. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP warn of Publishers Clearing House telephone scam

Police say scammer requests fee to claim sweepstakes prizes

The Summerland Steam will play their first exhibition game of the season on Friday, Oct. 23. Unlike previous years, there will be no spectators allowed in the stands this year in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brennan Phillips - Black Press)
Junior B hockey teams to play in empty arenas

Summerland Steam and other teams affected by decision to close facilities to fans

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

A file photo of an RCMP dog. (Campbell River RCMP photo)
Lawsuit claims Kelowna man suffered ‘vicious’ attack by RCMP dog, handler

Fernando Verde claims he was resuscitated at the hospital and needed emergency surgery following the attack

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

Most Read