As you may know, Somerset Ward has the highest rate of poverty. In my first year as councillor, our office has dealt with multiple evictions per week – most often, senior women being renovicted from apartments they have lived in for decades. I met a construction worker who slept under a bench in Minto Park, because he missed three days of pay when he got sick, and was soon evicted from the rooming house he was living in. And increasingly, the people living in our shelter system are newcomers to Canada – refugees and asylum seekers who came to our beautiful city to flee oppression and make a new life here.
While it is already hard to build affordable housing quickly enough to meet the overwhelming demand, our city is also losing moderately priced apartments much faster than we build them. According to new research from Carleton professor Steve Pomeroy, Ottawa loses 31 deeply affordable rental homes (with rent at $1,000 or less per month) for each one that we build. Renovictions, a lack of provincial tenancy control, and the financialization of housing have made the housing crisis even more desperate. For a person living on Ontario Works, ODSP or minimum wage, there are simply no more places to live.
The good news? Our city has solutions. Shovel-ready non-profit housing projects that just need an initial investment from the city budget to get construction started. Since 2020, the City of Ottawa has funded the construction of deeply 460 affordable homes, but there is still a backlog of 1,796 units awaiting funding.
By doubling the affordable housing budget for 2024 to $30 million, as well as a $5 million investment in transitional housing, our city showed the kind of leadership that will inspire other levels of government to invest in our vision. If I could say I had one goal during this term of council, it would be to get shovels in the ground for every single one if the 1,796 homes that are currently in our affordable housing pipeline.
The housing crisis is worse than it has ever been. People should not be sleeping in plastic chairs or under park benches in Canada’s capital city. As I said at the council table yesterday: the best time to build affordable housing was decades ago. The second-best time is right now.
Budget highlights for Somerset Ward
The 2024 city budget includes some major investments for Centretown, including:
- $3 million for the alternative crisis response pilot in Centretown
- $200,000 in additional funding for the Somerset West Community Health Centre’s homeless crisis outreach program
- $2 million for a brand-new park at Lebreton Flats
- The complete replacement of the basketball court at St. Luke’s Park
- A new splashpad in Dundonald Park
- $350,000 in public realm enhancements for Centretown beautification and animation this summer
- Investment in two new supportive housing buildings that will open soon in Centretown, managed by Cornerstone Housing and the John Howard Society.
- Capital investment in new affordable housing, including the Multifaith Housing Initiative’s Dream Lebreton project and Rochester Heights Phase 2.
Thank you to everyone who wrote letters, signed petitions, spoke at committee, attended protests and demanded better of our city. Your advocacy helped push city council to take bold action on affordable housing in this year’s budget and helped attract some key investments that will help kick-start the revitalization of downtown Ottawa. I have so much hope for our city, and that hope starts with you.