Provincial update: Time for real action to address housing and homelessness

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP Ottawa Centre –

Ottawa has a housing crisis. 

We recently learned through a CBC report that the number of chronically homeless families seeking shelter in our city spiked by 143 percent between 2014 and 2017. To make matters worse, at the time of writing there are 380 families living in motels and hotels, waiting to be housed.   

City shelters are over capacity and have been for some time. Shelter operators talk about people sleeping upright in waiting room chairs because municipal regulations prevent mats from being laid out on the floor.

It’s crucial to ensure those who need shelter can access it, but we also can’t overlook the root of the problem. The fundamental cause of this overcrowding is a lack of affordable housing supply in Ottawa.

Right now, about 10,500 families in our city are on the waiting list for subsidized housing. In some cases, the wait can be up to five years long. 

As we work towards finding emergency housing for those living on our streets, we must also discuss how other cities, like Edmonton and Montreal, are increasing the stock of affordable housing. We need policies that emulate these positive examples.   

One of these policies is inclusionary zoning, where new residential developments are required to include a certain percentage of affordable homes. It’s encouraging that the mayor has voiced support for this tool, but we need to ensure that inclusionary zoning rules require a significant percentage of affordable housing, rather than a token amount. 

We also need to see provincial investment in building more affordable housing, including support for co-ops and adaptive housing. Unfortunately, the Ford government is proceeding to make housing even less affordable by eliminating rent control for newly built units. 

In the meantime, more people are sleeping in cars, in bus terminals, at fast food restaurants, or outside in makeshift tents during these cold winter months. Many organizations are making the rounds to check on outdoor sleepers, but these actions forestall the inevitable. Sooner or later, we will hear news about a preventable death from someone sleeping outside.

We cannot allow that to happen. Which is why on December 9, our office hosted a meeting with shelter providers, housing advocates and city councillors to discuss short- and long-term solutions to addressing housing and homelessness. Lots of creative ideas emerged for how we can help those without a home now, and tackle the shortage of affordable housing. We’ll continue working closely with these organizations as we encourage the city and province to act with urgency in supporting those without a home. 

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