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Housing funds flow to city

Globe and Mail - Saturday, April 30, 2005
by Jennifer Lewington — City Hall Bureau Chief

Several thousand low-income Toronto families are expected to benefit over the next four years from a $602-million federal-provincial housing deal announced yesterday.

Over the next few months, between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals and families will qualify for housing allowances to defray the cost of rent in existing, vacant Toronto apartments, Toronto Mayor David Miller said.

In addition, he expects to see construction of about 6,000 units of low-income housing over the next four years, which could cut the city's 64,000-person waiting list for affordable accommodation.

Mr. Miller said he hopes that the funds from the announcement "will be put to work as soon as humanly possible."

However, the exact impact of the federal-Ontario deal will take several weeks to work out.

Yesterday, to the delight of housing activists who packed into a press conference, five Liberal cabinet ministers, unveiled the broad details of the long-stalled funding program.

"I'm giddy," said Angie Hains, president of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, whose members build housing for needy families. "It has been a long 10 years we have been waiting for this."

At the signing ceremony, which had the feel of an election campaign, local federal Liberals and city councillors rushed to the stage for pictures.

Federal Labour and Housing Minister Joe Fontana could not resist making a plug for the deal struck between Prime Minister Paul Martin and NDP Leader Jack Layton to save the Liberal's spring budget that pledged $1.6-billion in new money for housing over the next two years.

"There's only one caveat about spending the $1.6-billion," he said, drawing a round of laughter from his audience. "We need to pass the budget. We need to put the people's interests first, not the political ambitions of some."

Yesterday's announcement of $602-million, half each from Ottawa and Queen's Park, would be unaffected by a federal election. That's because the federal share of the money has been sitting on the shelf, unspent, from agreements dating back to 2000 and 2001. The previous Ontario Progressive Conservative government did not match funds.

In contrast, David Caplan, Ontario's current Public Infrastructure Renewal Minister, said his government is ready to put up $301-million to match the federal contribution.

Across the province, the funds are expected to provide housing allowances (to subsidize rent costs of existing units) and to assist in the construction of up to 15,000 units of affordable housing.

Pressed for a timetable on when the program will get to those in need, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Gerretsen said he expects that rent supplements should be available "in three or four months."

While it takes about 18 months for construction projects, about 4,000 units across the province are already planned or under construction under the terms of the 2002 deal, so some units could be ready for occupancy next year.

Those first in line for assistance are some of the most vulnerable people -- especially those with mental-health problems, victims of violence and others.

While the senior governments will put up cash, Toronto and other municipalities will have to give a break to multi-residential units, taxing them at the same rate as single-family homes.

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