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Ontario, Ottawa sign $602M housing deal

Spending will pay for 15,000 new affordable housing units, housing allowances for 5,000 families

Canadian Press - April 29, 2005

Ontario and Ottawa finally sealed a deal today to spend $602 million on more affordable housing, and there's more where that came from, said federal Housing Minister Joe Fontana - but only if the federal Liberal government survives.

As part of the agreement, each government will provide $301 million over the next four years to pay for 15,000 new affordable housing units across the province and housing allowances for 5,000 lower income families.

The money - Fontana called it a "massive investment" in Ontario housing - would also help to pay for a program to help low to moderate-income families buy a home and to establish more affordable housing in remote parts of the province.

Fontana also reminded social housing advocates, many of whom are salivating at the prospect of finally seeing substantive investments after a 10-year drought, that the new Liberal-NDP budget promises even more - $1.6 billion to be spent across Canada over two years.

"There's only one little caveat about spending the $1.6 billion," Fontana said to chuckles from the audience of activists, politicians and media. "And you all know what that is - we need to pass the budget."

The housing money is part of a $4.6-billion concession Prime Minister Paul Martin made to his New Democrat counterpart Jack Layton in order to secure the NDP's support for the budget in an effort to avoid losing a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons.

Fontana said the new budget is in the interest of Canadians, not in the interest of the government's political enemies, such as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who has vowed to topple the Liberals as soon as possible.

"We need to put the people's interest first, not the political ambitions of some," he said.

The combined cash from this deal and the yet-to-pass budget would mean $1.2 billion for affordable housing in Ontario over the next four years, he added.

Fontana later dismissed suggestions that his motives for making those statements were political, insisting the government is merely putting its money where its mouth is.

"That $1.6 billion that's in the new budget will surely do an awful lot to help people," he said. "It's got nothing to do about elections, it's about making Parliament work."

Advocates for the homeless vowed to hold both Ontario and Ottawa to account to ensure they make good on both today's long-delayed deal and the promise to push ahead with the additional money in the budget.

Cathy Crowe, a street nurse with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, which has been pushing for a national housing program, said this time she's convinced the deal is for real, although she's anxious to see details and a firm timeline.

"It's a start," Crowe said. "We've had no housing program in Ontario since 1995 . . .so this is really the beginning of a program again."

Ontario and Ottawa initially signed an affordable housing deal in 2002, but little ever came of it - a delay David Caplan, the province's infrastructure minister, blamed on the province's former Conservative government. "Ontario is back in affordable housing in a meaningful and significant way after it had been neglected by the previous government for over a decade," Caplan said.

"That decade of discontent is over."

Organizations that want to build more affordable housing are champing at the bit to get shovels in the ground and will pressure both governments to stick to their word, Crowe said.

"In a few weeks there will be a timeline and we'll hold them to that."

With 158,000 households in Ontario waiting for social housing, the cash is sorely needed, said Angie Hains, president of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

Advocates will also be pushing in Ottawa to ensure the revised federal budget is passed and put into action, Crowe added.

All levels of government want to push ahead so the money flows and the construction gets underway, said Ontario Housing Minister John Gerretsen. "We want to get this done as quickly as possible," he said. "The money is there now and that's really the most important thing."

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