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City of Windsor has unanswered questions as feds, province spar over housing funding

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A dispute between the federal and provincial governments over the National Housing Strategy nearly put the City of Windsor $7 million in the hole and questions still remain over when and how much funding the city will receive.

The National Housing Strategy is a bi-lateral agreement between the federal and provincial government, where the feds deliver $357 million annually to the province, which distributes it out to municipalities and service managers across Ontario. The agreement is in place until 2028.

“We want to make sure that we have the funding in our community to maintain existing stock, add new stock, and really those rent supplement programs are very, very important our community as well,” said Andrew Daher, the city’s commission of human and health services.

The dispute centres around a perceived lack of progress by the province in meeting targets for building new affordable housing. The federal government argues the province has only completed six per cent of its new affordable housing obligations thus far, and isn’t optimistic targets will be met by the time the program runs its course.

The province claims much of that money from the feds is spent on maintaining existing stock, which they argue should count towards net affordable housing numbers.

The city was planning to spend much of this year’s money on repairs and maintenance to about 700 affordable housing units.

“If that existing stock wasn't maintained, we would be going backwards in the communities as it relates to the number of units that are being maintained or at least kept up within the existing stock,” said Daher.

But just this week, Liberal Housing Minister Sean Fraser wrote the city, communicating that the funding will indeed flow.

“I want to assure you that the full amount of this funding which was meant to flow through the Province will nevertheless be used to make investments in affordable housing supports for the most vulnerable in Ontario, and will be delivered directly by the federal government,” the letter from Minister Fraser reads.

“With or without provincial involvement, we will ensure that affordable housing and housing supports for the most vulnerable are provided to the communities and residents in Ontario who need it most. We will likewise continue to work with Ontario in the hopes that we can avoid a similar situation in future years of our agreement,” the letter states.

While it’s a relief, Daher said there are still un-answered questions, such as exactly how much money will the city receive, when will they find out, and what parameters the funding comes with.

“The devil’s in the details and we need to really figure out what's going to be required in order to get this funding,” he said. “And I'm hoping that it's not very, very prescriptive.“

For example, some of the money in that funding envelope goes to rent subsidy programs, without which would require immediate and significant action on the city’s part to reduce impacts on housing affordability. The city warns that not receiving the proper funding could lead to evictions and homelessness.

Daher, and by extension, city council, is asking for consistency.

“I'm hopeful that we'll get something in the very, very near future because the longer we wait, the further delayed we are in maintaining and really building more units within our community,” he said. “And that's my number one priority.”

Neither the federal nor provincial housing ministers responded to a request for comment Friday.

The matter will be discussed at Monday’s regular meeting of city council on May 13, 2024.

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