Northumberland County Families Are at Risk of Homelessness

In City Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Reassuring letters from Federal Ministry of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser and Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra have proven to be less than reassuring to Northumberland County council for their vagueness.

Though both talk of commitment to the National Housing Strategy and their portions of that commitment, Associate Director of Housing and Homelessness Rebecca Carman pointed out that there are no details of how and when that funding can be expected. In the meantime, very real problems loom for county residents who depend on this support.

At its May meeting, council received Carman’s May 15 report outlining the problem – no for-profit trickle-down solution on the horizon, substantial investments in new affordable social housing required (as well as substantial investments in revitalizing existing units), and the fact that the national housing crisis is most acute in Ontario.

Part of the reason is that, unlike most provinces and territories, social supports (including housing-affordability supports) are delivered in Ontario by 47 Service Managers and District Social Service Administration Boards – many of which are larger than many of Canada’s provinces and territories. As well, the report continued, they “lack the revenue and policy tools and powers of the Provincial and Federal governments to end the housing affordability crisis.”

The National Housing Strategy sets out three Federal-Provincial initiatives for which the province delivers funding – the Canada-Ontario Community Housing Initiative to support the repair and renewal of existing social housing, the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative to prioritize the development of new affordable rental units, and the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit to provide households with a portable housing benefit to help them afford private-market housing.

The county learned on March 25 that the Federal government was pausing all NHS funding, and has received no confirmation that the 82 Northumberland households currently receiving the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit will continue to receive it after the program’s June 30 year end.

The Federal government paused its funding to Ontario, alleging that the province had failed to meet its obligation to meet targets for building new affordable housing, meeting only 6% of the mutually agreed supply expansion by year end of 2024-25. The move to pause is a result of their doubt that Ontario can come up with 94% of the agreed-upon supply over the remaining two years of the agreement.

Ontario is countering that the Federal government does not recognize its calculation of how it is meeting the target.

“For context, the Government of Ontario has revised its approach to calculating the creation of new market housing supply by including long-term care beds in addition to housing starts, and recently proposing to include retirement homes, student housing, and other institutional living arrangement in reaching its stated target of 1.5-million new homes over the next ten years,” Carman’s report said, adding that this is not an unprecedented practice.

Whatever the cause, she said, the interruption of funding will disrupt the households that depend on it, particularly those that receive the COHB assistance. It may cost them access to a critical housing subsidy and put them at risk of homelessness. Backstopping these families must be a priority, she urged. The approximate annual cost of COHB in Northumberland is $615,000 (or $51,000 monthly).

Meanwhile, some $1.2-million in other programs will have to be paused – Northumberland Renovates, County Housing Capital Repairs and contributions to new rental-housing development.

The province will continue to fund its Homelessness Prevention Program and Indigenous Supportive Housing Program, both of which are independent of the bilateral agreement.

The motion passed by county council authorizes Warden Brian Ostrander to advocate on behalf of the county to both Federal and provincial governments “to limit mounting harms to some of Ontario’s most vulnerable families,” to press for official confirmation that vulnerable households will continue to receive the COHB and that the 47 SM/DSSABs will continue to receive funding until a new agreement can be reached, and to advocate for a trilateral table to negotiate the final three-year complement of funding under the National Housing Strategy – partners from Federal and provincial governments as well as representatives of the SM/DSSABs.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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