The Government of Canada announced an allotment of $7.4 million for the City of Kingston to put toward rapid housing on Thursday, Jul. 22, 2021.
Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) made the announcement today alongside Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, and Bryan Paterson, Mayor of Kingston. The group gathered with members of the press, city staff, and MPP Ian Arthur in front of the development site of a mixed-income housing project at 27 Wright Crescent.
Vaughan acknowledged that Kingston is on the traditional homeland of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat, and the Iroquois confederacy.
“And, of course, in this part of Ontario the Mohawk people are front and centre in land acknowledgement,” he said. “It’s interesting to note that the concept and the architectural house forms that the Iroquois and many indigenous people used is the longhouse, which is exactly what the national housing strategy in many ways was modelled after. It is housing that wraps around the needs of people based on where they are in their lives. But it’s not just about building houses, but building communities and bringing people into those communities to make contributions. Stronger contribution is made possible fundamentally by housing, but more importantly with housing.”
“I often say in caucus and I often say in the house,” Vaughan continued, “You show me what the challenge is you’re trying to address as a public official, and I’ll show you how housing can play a role in doing it. Whether it’s climate change and building more energy-efficient homes, whether it’s fighting poverty and more affordability, whether it’s better transportation policies, whether it’s making cities work better, housing is the best tool we have to solve some of the biggest challenges we face in Canada, in Ontario, and in Kingston. And when we build more housing, we build it more effectively. It makes all those other challenges that much easier to solve.”
Vaughan stated that the national housing strategy is a $72 billion program that includes the legislative right to housing and the right to access housing systems that meet the needs of Canadians, regardless of what sorts of housing choices they want to make.
“Our government’s job is to create a housing system that meets those choices that Canadians want to make,” he said, “but for many Canadians who live in very precarious situations, it’s just a roof over their heads that they need to start making life better for themselves and making life better for people in their communities.”
COVID, he said, has shown Canadians how important housing is to health, noting that, “Long before we had vaccines, the first thing doctors prescribed was to go to a home.” However, “You can’t do that if you’re homeless and if you’re living in a tent. If you’re living in a shelter, if you’re living in overcrowded environments, if you’re couch surfing, and the doctor says you need to isolate, you need a home to do that in. We’ve quickly understood and realized this, and immediately increased funding significantly to frontline services.”
“The rapid housing initiative evolved out of our COVID response as a way to create immediate housing to secure people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said, describing how the Federal government actually partnered with municipalities to bypass provincial governments. This he said, “prioritized the stream that provided dedicated funding and allowed cities to fine-tune the location of the housing, connected it to the services and the community supports that are critical to making housing successful, but we also knew that they had control of the planning process and the approvals processes required to get the zoning and the building codes issues right.”
In a nice turn of events, going directly to municipalities allowed the move to be fast and efficient, Vaughan expressed.
“We went much faster than any other government ever had, and the program was originally forecast to house 3,000 people with the first billion-dollar installment, but because we worked directly with cities we actually delivered 4,777 units. It was a 50 per cent overshoot on a government program. I don’t think you’ve ever seen a government as embarrassed as we have been on that one,” he joked, “ I mean it’s a really important achievement, it’s a 50 per cent above forecast response, cities are a large part of that.”
“But the other thing [bypassing the provincial government] showed us is Indigenous communities, when given the opportunity to step up and access capital dollars, they also helped us overachieve on this file,” Vaughan said, adding that close to 40 per cent of the funding went to Indigenous-led housing programs.
This gave the Feds a chance to re-examine rapid housing and change their program for the better, he said, and so, “there are a couple of components to the new program we’ve done differently.”
First, he said, “we’ve increased the funding pool from $1 billion to $1.5 billion, so now it’s now a $2.5 billion program. And the other thing that we did is we looked at the data and we looked at cities that were having a particular presentation of homelessness around COVID and we expanded the cities list.”
“And in doing so,” he continued, “I’m happy to announce that Kingston will be receiving an allotment of $7.4 million. It should provide at least 28 homes, depending on how they configure the project, but this is really good news for the City of Kingston. It delivers real houses to real people in real-time.”
“And the project stream, which is a billion of the $1.5 billion, is still open to projects that might not fit into the city envelope, but they can then promote and push forward as part of the project stream. We expect to come back again. We expect good results again. But at the end of the day, what we’re really expecting is for Kingston to step up to serve those people that are precariously housed to get people out of tents, off streets, out of shelters into new permanent homes, and to help them on their healing journey and to help them return to making a contribution to their communities, as we pulled together as communities to make contributions to their lives,” Vaughan explained.
He went on to thank Mayor Paterson, whom he referred to as “a very strong advocate on housing, a really strong ally for us to work with. He even managed to get the province onside several times, which is no mean feat in this day and age.”
The City of Kingston, he said, “is an easy city to partner with because their focus on housing is so determined and so well-enunciated.”
“And, as you can see from behind me,” Vaughan said, gesturing to the construction, “They’re getting stuff built, which is the bottom line to all of us: are we housing people? And the answer is pretty clear: yes. We have more to do and the good news is, there’s more to come.”