Parliament’s first budget watchdog has warned the federal government to be careful how it will spend billions in new housing money over the next decade to ensure it actually makes a lasting impact.
In a recently published analysis, former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page stated that Ottawa currently doesn’t tie homelessness and housing funding to any outcomes, meaning the money will flow whether the results are good or bad.
Page and two co-authors argued that when provinces, territories, and municipalities have to report on how they spend federal money, they each use their own benchmarks and present them without any context.
A key pillar of the Liberals’ national strategy will be collecting specific information to measure progress towards reducing homelessness and the number of households struggling to keep up with housing payments.
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Page said getting the right data is going to be key. Otherwise, the situation nationally won’t improve no matter how much money gets thrown at it.
“I’m optimistic that there is positive change coming,” he told The Canadian Press. “The federal government feels a little bit of the pressure — they need to score a policy victory on a national housing strategy.”
The national housing strategy takes into account $11.2 billion in available funds, and about $5 billion more leftover from the previous Conservative government.
The government is hoping to build 80,000 new affordable rental units over the next decade as part of a heavy emphasis on expanding the supply of affordable housing in Canada. The plan is also intended to lift 500,000 families out of what’s known as “core housing need” and help a further 500,000 avoid or get out of homelessness.
Page noted that it will be up to cities to spend the federal money on housing programs, meaning that the Liberals will have to take into account regional and community differences to some extent.
Nevertheless, he added, “What are we trying to fix — it’s similar right across the country.”
“What if we had parents who hit hard times and we found ourselves living out of an emergency shelter without a steady roof over our head and maybe not access to a school? That experience, that’s similar whether you’re living up North or you’re living in Ottawa.”
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