Feds unveil deal for new housing accelerator fund in London

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london on accelerator

The Canadian Press

The federal government is trying to channel the anger it’s facing over the lack of affordable housing into a challenge for municipalities.

The new approach comes as Liberal MPs touch base on why their party is polling at its lowest level since taking government in 2015.

“A new standard has been set and we have new expectations,” Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Wednesday in London, Ont.

“If (municipalities) want the federal government to show up with financial investments that will directly support your ability to build more homes, give us a reason.”

Fraser was speaking at a press conference where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than 2,000 new housing units could be built in London over the next three years.

It is the first city in the country to sign a deal under the national housing accelerator fund, a $4-billion program first announced in the spring 2022 federal budget, but for which applications weren’t accepted until July.

Trudeau blamed municipalities for the fact it took 17 months to get a single project approved under the program. “You’d have to ask different mayors why it took so long,” he said in French.

The prime minister said London was the fastest to respond to the call for plans that eliminate barriers to getting homes built more quickly, such as zoning rules that limit the kind of housing that can be built in specific areas.

London can use $74 million in federal funds through its proposal to allow four units to be built on a single property, even in low-density neighborhoods, and for high-density developments to be built without the need for rezoning.

Trudeau said he was issuing a challenge to other mayors to “step up with their proposals” and “build more homes faster.”

Fraser said the announcement “is going to be replicated in the weeks and months ahead” and urged municipalities to allow housing near transit and universities.

Yet Trudeau would not commit to meet a target outlined Wednesday by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which said the country will be short about 3.5 million homes by the end of the decade, compared with what’s needed to restore affordability.

And both Fraser and Trudeau refused to say what would be an acceptable average cost for a home, with Fraser urging against “simplistic metrics about average home prices,” saying he’s instead focused on how many homes are available at varying price points.

Affordability issues are expected to be in the spotlight on Parliament Hill this fall, with opposition parties saying the Liberals are slow reacting to a crisis they let fester.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called on Trudeau to waive federal taxes on projects to build  affordable housing, while helping non-profits buy older properties that are often snapped up by developers.

Earlier on Wednesday, Fraser said that low-income and public housing was Canada’s core need when his government first took office, but “the dynamic has fundamentally shifted” since the COVID-19 pandemic, when house prices soared out of reach for middle-class families.

He said the government is looking at unprecedented measures, working with the private and non-profit sectors.

“We’re going to need to advance measures that are going to help change the financial equation for builders who are dealing with a lot of projects that are actually approved but have been put on pause because of a higher-interest rate environment,” Fraser said.

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