December 1, 2015: As part of the City of Ottawa’s 2016 Budget consultations, the Alliance to End Homelessness Executive Director, Mike Bulthuis, presented the deputation below to the Community and Protective Services Committee on Monday, November 30. The Alliance made one of 38 deputations, joining representatives of St. Luke’s Table (on behalf of the Day Program Coalition), the Door Youth Centre, the City for All Women Initiative and ten Community Health and Resource Centres — each speaking to the importance of (enhanced) investments in our community’s vital social infrastructure. Note that representatives of a number of Alliance member agencies, including the Alliance Vice-Chair, Lisa Ker, also made presentations to the City’s Planning Committee on Tuesday, November 24.
Residents and organizations alike have until December 8 to voice their Budget feedback, as City Council votes on the 2016 operating and capital budgets on Wednesday, December 9. Click here for additional 2016 Budget information.
Last week, we marked National Housing Day – across Canada, and here in Ottawa with the Mayor’s Proclamation on Tuesday, November 24. We mark this day each year to confirm our vision – of a community where all are well-housed, where housing strengthens opportunities for young people, individuals and families to sustain jobs, health and community connections.
This year, on National Housing Day, we recognized the 6500 individuals who stayed in Ottawa’s shelters in 2014. And, we recognized their average length of stay in those shelters – 77 days – as longer than ever before, highlighting a shortage of affordable housing options in our community.
Many of us know these numbers. Together, the City, service agencies and housing providers, along with the broad community, are working to make change. But we need to be reminded of the numbers. Did you know that 1 in 5 of those 6500 shelter clients in Ottawa in 2014 were children? Yes, over 1300 were kids – staying with their family in emergency shelters for stays that averaged 3.5 months. And this is over and above hundreds of other young people. Healthy starts – in stable housing with supportive communities – are crucial for our kids. In Ottawa, we can and must do better.
So how does the City’s draft 2016 Budget help move us along?
There’s positive, and less positive news.
On a positive note: After identifying efficiencies and savings for 2016, we see that front-line housing and homelessness services are largely protected. As operational reviews occur for 2017 and 2018, we encourage continued attention to the impact any efficiency savings may have on our vulnerable public.
Also positive, we see that the $2m that was added to the Housing and Homelessness Investment Plan in 2015 has seemingly been incorporated into the base budget, included in 2016. This is great news.
What else? Of course, you are each familiar with the ten-year housing and homelessness plan that City Council adopted in Fall 2013 – one that commits us as a city to ending chronic homelessness by 2023.
To deliver on that commitment, it’s important that City Council leverage all tools – across Departments. And, as CPS Committee members, I understand that you play a key role in ensuring the Plan’s overall success. With that in mind, I echo remarks made by a number of Alliance member agencies last week to the Planning Committee regarding one particular concern.
In 2015, an annual contribution of $4m in municipal capital dollars for the development of new affordable housing was removed from the City’s Budget. Unfortunately, in 2016, these dollars have not been restored. While $11.4m is scheduled to be spent on new affordable housing in 2016, only $1.75m represents municipal dollars – the remainder being transfers from the federal and provincial governments.
Yes, I firmly believe we are a caring city. And, I believe that we are in a time of growing momentum to address our homelessness and housing challenges. We are pleased to see new builds – such as the one recently announced for the Carlington Community Health Centre, in partnership with Ottawa Community Housing, that will create 42 units.
However, the truth is that the 2016 draft budget represents the lowest municipal contribution towards new affordable housing in the past five years.
Indeed, both our federal and provincial governments have recently affirmed their support for and commitment to our goals. It’s important that our municipal efforts remain as strong now as they ever have. With our Housing Reserve running dry, and without another identified municipal contribution to new development, we risk sapping the momentum of our ten-year plan – and we limit our capacity to develop new housing options for those families in our shelters.
One last note: We recognize the City’s overall financial situation – and upcoming pressures. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools that can be pursued, via a joined-up approach, to help address the goals of our ten-year plan. We need each of you on CPS to champion these tools with your Planning Committee colleagues and at the City Council table.
Specifically, the City of Ottawa’s Housing First for land policy – a part of our Official Plan – helps generate revenue for the City’s Housing Reserve Fund through the sale of surplus property – or by making lands available for the development of affordable housing.
This set-aside of land has helped to make possible such projects as the current Longfields development by Multifaith Housing Initiative, and the recent CCOC development of Beaver Barracks in Centretown.
In the upcoming review of municipally-owned land and properties to sell – as recommended in this Budget – we would urge that Council adhere to its Housing First policy, and that where possible, these lands become low-cost contributions from the City to help advance affordable housing priorities.
In closing, I refer once more to our ten-year plan – and urge City Council to keep its eye on the ten-year prize. Together, we can ensure success. Let’s sustain our effort.
Image: City of Ottawa, 2016