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Ambitious, but lacking

National housing strategy shows positive steps, but is missing key details, regional chair says

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Durham Region’s director of housing is “cautiously optimistic” in regards to the federal Liberals’ national housing strategy.

“We really welcome the federal government back as a partner in housing,” John Connolly told The Oshawa Express.

The plan, unveiled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November, includes a pledge by the feds to invest $40 billion into housing over a 10-year period, including promises to build 100,000 new affordable housing units and repairs to 300,000 existing units.

Durham regional council recently supported a report from the Affordable and Seniors’ Housing Task Force, created in 2016, which maps out action plans for addressing housing issues on a local level.

Connolly says the federal government announcing “long-term consistent and predictable funding” for housing will create a clearer path for regional planning.

“We want to see stability,” he states, something he feels the Liberal strategy achieves in the short-term.

But with provincial and municipal elections on the docket for 2018, priorities from those vantage points may change on housing.

“It allows us to fill in some of the blanks,” Connolly says. “My frustration is, I’m not sure of what all those blanks are.”

The next year will be a landmark one in making plans to address Durham Region’s affordable and social housing needs.

The department of social services will be bringing forth a detailed layout for acting on 34 recommendations included in the task force’s report at the Dec. 6 committee of the whole meeting.

“It will bring a number of specific investments and specific recommendations to establish the mandate of our task force,” Connolly says.

Next year will also see the midpoint review of At Home in Durham, the region’s housing plan for 2014 to 2024.

Trudeau also announced plans to create a Canadian Housing Benefit, which would provide an annual rent subsidy of $2,500 to approximately 300,000 households across the country.

Connolly expressed concern that funding for the proposed rent subsidy would be split between the federal and provincial governments.

“If it was all federal it would be more predictable. I would have hoped the feds would have stepped up,” he says.

Lastly, the director of housing pointed out that most of the funding within the strategy will not roll out until 2020.

“A lot of the federal government promises are into the next mandate, that gives me concern on the municipal level because we are the ones who have to deliver.”

Those grievances aside, Connolly says he is pleased with many aspects of the strategy.

“They are saying the right things,” he states. “I think it’s really good in the announcements they are talking about creating new units.”

With Trudeau calling housing a basic human right, Connolly believes a spotlight has been cast on the issue like never before.

“This is a priority. We often get lost looking at roads, sewers, transit etc., which are all very important but this is as big of a priority,” he says.