Modular housing proposed for many cities in B.C., but so far, none in Maple Ridge. (THE NEWS/files)

Feds toss $40 billion at housing crisis

Anything is better than nothing, says Maple Ridge councillor

Anything to help people get into homes is welcome, said a Maple Ridge councillor following the federal government’s announcement of its National Housing Strategy, Wednesday.

“It sounds a lot better than nothing and a lot better than what we’ve had from the government in a long time,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Housing Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the general framework of the $40-billion, decade-long plan, with specifics to follow later.

The goal is to cut chronic homelessness in half, help more than half a million people, with the goal of focusing on those most at risk, first.

Some of the features of the plan include another $2.2 billion plowed into the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, an existing program which funds low-income housing for vulnerable people, following the Housing First principle.

Another $16 billion will go into what’s called the National Housing Co-Investment Fund that will partner with the provinces, cities and non-profit agencies.

The goal of that fund is to build 60,000 affordable homes across Canada and provide money to fix up another 240,000 homes. At least 12,000 seniors housing units are called for, with 2,400 more affordable units for people with developmental disabilities. That tactic will also use surplus federal lands to help defray costs.

There’s also another $500 million in the strategy for people living in co-op housing, where funding agreements are expiring, leading to higher housing costs, while $4 billion will go to a new Canada Community Housing Initiative for existing community housing.

Not mentioned, however, are any new tax incentives, such as were used decades ago to encourage the private sector to build housing.

Maple Ridge followed its own version of that strategy a few years ago, when it offered tax exemptions and cash grants to encourage condo building in the downtown.

“That created a lot of housing downtown and it didn’t take much,” said Speirs.

The National Housing Strategy got the support of Metro Vancouver, which pointed out that affordable housing has declined by eight per cent a year in the region, for the last decade.

Metro Vancouver liked the Canada Housing Benefit, to be jointly funded by the provinces, which will spend $4 billion to provide direct payments of about $2,500 a year to low-income families in housing.

The Metro Vancouver Housing Corp. operates 49 affordable housing locations around the region, housing 9,400 people.

Metro Vancouver also pointed out that its 2017 Homeless Count showed a 30-per-cent increase in homelessness in the last three years.

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy couldn’t be reached for comment.

UBC professor Paul Kershaw, though, said the strategy is a failure because it doesn’t address the constantly increasing price of houses.

Kershaw, with Generation Squeeze, says there are no incentives for cities to increase zoning densities in single-family home areas that would increase the housing supply and help young people.

“The result is many neighbourhoods with home prices that squeeze out young people, even with good jobs.”

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