Housing gets budget boost, but Toronto will have to line up for its share

It was make or break time for the prime minister and his government and they were pulling out all the stops.

More than a month after proroguing Parliament to stave off a coalition formed by the Opposition, Stephen Harper asked Canadians what they wanted to see in a budget. The result was a broad, stimulus-based, deficit budget, including $2 billion for social housing.

The chair of Social Housing Services, Roger Maloney, says this is a significant investment for a federal government that has not been involved in such services for several years,

“[The] good news is that the federal government is re-engaging. The provincial government started with last year’s budget,” Maloney said.

But that’s where the good news ends, Maloney said. According to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, speaking in the House of Commons today, the $2 billion is split several ways, $1 billion to renovate existing housing, $600-million for aboriginal on reserve housing, $400-million for senior’s housing and $75-million for housing the disabled.

With the $1 billion spread out federally, it reduces the total effectiveness of the support for local projects, according to Derek Ballantyne, CEO of Toronto Community Housing.

“It’s a lot of money federally. By the time you break it down and find out how much will be available, it won’t mean much for Toronto,” Ballantyne said.

“We’re hoping that the federal government doles it out unit by unit,” Maloney said. “So Ontario, with the most social housing, 55 per cent, would get the most. The devil is in the details.”

Those details will determine how much Toronto gets. Of that 55 per cent there is a significant amount in Toronto.  Including some of the oldest, and most in need, housing.

“The oldest social housing, formerly provincially owned, has the highest priority,” Ballantyne said. “We estimate it will cost $10,000 per unit and there are at least 30,000 units in our stock.”

This would bring the total cost to $300-million for the highest priority Toronto public housing units.  And that represents a significant portion of the $1 billion promised by the federal government.