The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for March, 2003
Squat Success: Vancouver Buys Woodward’s Building
The province of British Columbia has decided to sell the Woodward’s building to the City of Vancouver for $5.5 million. The building was the site of a battle over affordable housing that started last fall when squatters took it over to demand it be developed into housing units for low-income people. In the deal, the province has committed to funding 100 units for people who are at risk of homelessness.
More information provided on housing developments in Vancouver Check the Housing Again Alerts posted Jan. 31, 2003
Federal Budget Comes Through with Housing Money
Momentum continued last month as the federal government came forward with new money for housing and homelessness. But the National Housing and Homelessness Network (NNHA) says the budget provides more money for band-aid solutions rather than addressing the root cause: a lack of affordable housing.
The budget promises are:
* $320 million over the next five years toward the National Affordable Housing program;
* $256 million over the next two years toward the national housing renovation program to preserve existing affordable housing;
* $270 million over the next two years for the Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI) to fight homelessness.
The NNHA advocates for the one per cent solution, which suggests that all levels of government should spend one per cent more on housing than they already do (which would equal $2 billion more a year). Although the federal money is positive, the NNHA says the new promises still fall far short of what is needed.
The positive aspects of the new budget are the commitments to extend the SCPI program, the renovation program and an unspecified commitment to continue to turn surplus federal property for homelessness ventures. NNHA is critical of the government channeling too little money into a National Affordable Housing program. “While this program has funded thousands of new units in Quebec, the record is bleak throughout much of the rest of the country,” says network member Michael Shapcott. “New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island Newfoundland and Labrador still haven’t signed on, not a single unit has been built in Ontario, and British Columbia has used the federal dollars to replace provincial spending. We’ve got to keep stepping up to the pressure on the feds to deliver funding and programs that meet the real needs of Canadians.”
For more information, see Housing Again Alerts (Feb. 18th and 20th)
Cross-Country Check-up: National Affordable Housing Program
It has been well over a year, and there have been many announcements and re-announcements since the federal, provincial and territorial governments signed the affordable housing framework agreement in November 2001. With new money recently announced in the federal budget and another housing ministers’ meeting on the horizon, we thought we’d check in on the progress of the affordable housing initiative across the country.
Early signers: British Columbia , Quebec, Nunavut and NWT
British Columbia was the first province to sign on with the federal government. Before the agreement came along, the province’s Liberal government had shelved 1,700 social housing projects scheduled by its NDP predecessor. Now the B.C. government is using $26.2 million federal dollars for 1,764 units of non-profit housing for low-income families, homeless people and people with mental and physical disabilities – a net increase of 64 units over what was originally promised. Once these units are constructed, British Columbia will also contribute $13 million per year in operating subsidies for 35 years. So far, 1,061 of these units have been completed with the others either under construction or soon-to-be under construction.
The rest of the B.C. funds are going to a program called Independent Living B.C. for frail seniors and people with disabilities. While a coalition of seniors’ organizations, housing groups and health-care workers say this strategy will shift funding from nursing home care to lower-cost seniors apartments with home support, the minister says the aim is to provide housing for those who do not want or need to be in nursing homes. Once these units are built, the province will contribute $16.7 million each year in operating subsidies for the next 35 years.
Quebec has been the sweetheart of housing activists because it not only matched the federal funds with new housing dollars ($140 million from the province and $57 million from municipalities) but it also reserved 5,000 units for non-profit and residential developers who want to target low-to modest income households.
Nunavut also stepped forward quickly with matching funds ready to get construction underway - the lack of roads and extreme conditions in the north meant the territory had to act fast to get supplies in place for the construction season. While the territorial-federal program provided 200 units, the territory exceeded this to fund an additional 90 units on its own. Chris D’Arcy, director of policy and planning for the Nunavut Housing Corporation said all of the units are now either built or underway and the territory is planning to contribute another $12.5 million for 2003-04. D’Arcy said the territory will be looking for its fair share of the new money released for affordable housing in the most recent federal budget (see story below).
Northwest Territories is also matching the federal contribution dollar-for-dollar according to Revi Lau-a, spokesperson for the NWT Housing Corporation. The territorial and the federal government will contribute $7.5 million over the next five years for a total of $15 million. Lau-a said the territory hopes the program will create 300 new unites over the next four years. The money is being administered by the territory’s housing corporation and will be a mix between subsidized rental units and affordable home-ownership options. The program is specifically geared toward people who pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.
Prairies and Yukon signed, and ramping up
In Saskatchewan municipalities will be providing about 20 per cent of the total funds, while the province provides the balance, to match the federal contribution of $45.86 million. Bob Bjerke, housing co-ordinator for the city of Regina, says this deal is consistent with what municipalities have been asked to contribute in the past. The Saskatchewan Housing Corporation will be approving projects on a project-by-project basis and the first round of proposals were due February 19th.
Manitoba announced its agreement with the feds in late October and has agreed to match the federal contribution of $25.39 million. The city of Winnipeg has announced that it will also contribute new money to the initiative. The city has yet to announce the amount of its contribution, but the rumours are that will be up to $17.5 million. This new money will be used for new rental units, to renovate and preserve existing housing stock and to help lower income people become home owners, particularly in remote northern areas and in urban areas targeted for revitalization.
Terry Wotton, Manitoba’s director of Affordable Housing, says the new money will not replace provincial spending for programs, such as the Neighbourhood Housing Assistance Program, that provides $10,000 to community groups and individuals to develop or rehabilitate housing in targeted inner-city areas. The cities will target projects that aren’t covered by current housing assistance programs.
In rural areas, the province’s housing corporation will deliver the money directly to projects that meet the criteria. Wotton was unable to say how many new units the province expects to come as a direct result of the National Affordable Housing Initiative.
Although Alberta signed its agreement last June, details of its program are still pending. What is certain is that of the $67 million in federal funds, $58 million will be dedicated to high-growth and high-need communities while the other $8.7 million will go to remote communities in the province. The funding will be allocated on a project-by-project basis. Sundari Devam, president of the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness says she expects to hear more when the provincial budget comes out in late March or April.
The Yukon is in early negotiations over one project that it may bring forward as a result of the program. The territory matched its $5.5 million from the federal government and Louis Girard, VP Operations of the Yukon Housing Corporation says the project it is currently considering may use up the entire pot. He wouldn’t give any details other than to say that it is a public, non-profit project.
Ontario a Deal-Stinker
The deal that the Ontario government announced in December was not at all popular among housing activists and housing-friendly municipal politicians. The province announced it would provide only $20 million to match the $244.71 million from the feds and require the rest to come from the municipalities and community partners. Some projects will receive an initial $4000 per unit, and selected projects may receive up to $23,000 in additional federal funding – providing they can match those funds with contributions from the municipalities or make contributions of their own. Co-op and non-profit providers will not be required to have equity to apply. However, one of the criteria for selecting projects will be a submitting a low bid, compared to other submissions, for funding. The province defines ‘affordable’ as ‘average CMHC market rents’ for this program.
Progress Slow in the Atlantic Region
Nova Scotia is the first of the Atlantic provinces to sign the agreement and one project is underway. Middleton, in the Annapolis Valley will soon have a new $1.3 million affordable housing development for low-to-moderate income families. It will contain two, three-bedroom, units and 13, two-bedroom, units. Four units will be wheelchair accessible. The development will also include an office complex.
Since the November signing, the province has been holding consultations across the province to develop program details. So far, it looks like the program will be aimed at: new rental housing, preservation of existing rental units, helping lower income people to buy homes and helping those who own homes to keep them. Vicki Fraser, communications advisor responsible for housing, says $37.26 million will be available over five years to create or renovate up to 1,500 affordable housing units.
New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island have yet to sign agreements.
For a Critique of the National Affordable Housing Program check the Housing Again Alerts posted Dec. 9, 2002
Community Spotlight: Affordable Housing Goes Solar in Regina
‘Affordable Housing’ and ‘Solar Energy’ seem to be two concepts match-made in heaven. Solar energy is not only good for the environment, but it promises to cuts cost. And, with unexpected energy rate-increases popping up across the country, the push for alternative energy is on.
So why isn’t solar energy used more often? One problem is the prohibitive cost of solar panels and other technologies to convert sunlight to energy. But as a new affordable housing pilot project in Regina hopes to demonstrate, homebuilders should choose simple design for solutions rather than expensive technologies.
“When you incorporate an active means of generating energy from the sun (for examples, solar panels) into a building, you immediately contribute to the cost. But what people weren’t considering were the tremendous advantages of passive solar energy. (that is, sunlight through a window),” says Avi Friedman, co-founder and director of the affordable homes architecture program at McGill University.
Friedman’s students worked with the city of Regina to provide solar-friendly designs for seven sites. The city is moving forward with one of these sites, an old school, parts of which have been vacant for 15 years. Some of the original building will be incorporated into the new design - for instance, the gym will become part of a new community center.
The building will provide 80 new units, some of which will be affordable for people with lower incomes, while others will be more expensive. Studies project an energy cost savings of 75 per cent because of design.
Designs that help achieve this goal include:
* Simple Re-orientation: Face the building south to take in the most sunlight during the day and get rid of overhangs that block the sun.
* Layout: Make sure the functions in the home face south, and create open floors where heat from the lower level can warm the upper levels.
* Materials: Use materials that absorb heat and release it overnight.
* Windows: Use large windows. Affordable homes often have few and small windows. Investments in good windows yield cost savings and so should be a priority.
* Landscaping: Trees are natural shading devices that save on cooling costs in the summer then lose their leaves to let sunlight through in the winter.
The one ‘active’ solar technology system that Friedman recommends is a water heater. “It really does not cost that much, a few thousand dollars and you can have hot water throughout the year,” he says. “Coming from a country (Israel) that has a solar water heater on every house, I fail to understand why we do not include them in places such as Regina that have many sunny days.”
Friedman concedes that some cities are sunnier than others but he says these strategies will work anywhere. Although gloomier and darker locales may not have as great an advantage, the principles are simple and create some cost savings. Friedman and his students are now working with Medicine Hat, Alberta to create solar affordable housing designs. There are plans, with some help from the Saskatchewan Research Council to release a book and CD-ROM on the topic that will have actual house plans for builders, developers and people who want to build their own homes.