CITY OFFERING FORGIVABLE LOANS TO LANDLORDS TO RENOVATE UNITS, KEEP THEM AFFORDABLE AND HOUSE HOMELESS FAMILIES
“But I think sometimes we honestly forget that it’s one unit at a time, right? One family at a time.”
To match families with landlords who respond to the city’s request for proposals, due Dec. 7, there won’t be a rigid selection process like that governing placement from the centralized waiting list for social housing in the city, Sayah explained. Instead, city staff will work with shelter staff, identify families interested in certain neighbourhoods and consider unique needs, like mobility or finding a home for a large family.
The program addresses a confluence of challenging housing realities, Sayah explained: There’s the pressure on the emergency shelter system in Ottawa, discrimination and other housing market barriers that families in that system face and rising costs associated with acquiring and constructing new housing.
But it also satisfies a direction to staff that passed eight months ago, Sayah confirmed, after two councillors moved to bring an end to the city’s controversial arrangement with a Vanier hotelier to shelter homeless families in off-site apartments. A majority of committee members opted instead for a city-run “housing blitz” to find permanent homes for families in the shelter system. Sayah said the program being rolled out now is intended to accomplish this.
In principle, Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization chair John Dickie is all for the city’s new take on the Ontario Renovates program. Make the money available to the private sector, attach it to renting to families experiencing homelessness and “ let the city get something very helpful for its and the province’s money” — it’s a win-win-win in Dickie’s eyes.
“I’m concerned that the city may not have got the balance right in terms of the amount of work they want people to do on pure speculation,” Dickie said.
This won’t be the city’s first foray into the private rental market to try to connect landlords with people in housing need. In 2020, it partnered with the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa on a housing blitz, which didn’t offer financial incentives to landlords or require particular affordability, but ultimately got 30 households into homes.
She sounded a note of caution about time-limited commitments to affordability and believes larger landlords, certainly, should be making in-perpetuity commitments if they’re getting this money for their units. Otherwise “it really is just pushing homelessness down the road, or housing precarity.”
Still, she says the initiative is another tool, which is a good thing, and she does think it could offer a valuable opportunity to build bridges with local landlords, something Sayah says is a major goal (though the RFP is also open to not-for-profits, charities and registered community housing providers).
Ottawa has a significant secondary rental market, populated by smaller landlords, and this is the group they’re hoping to target in particular, Sayah said. And, ultimately, if it proves successful, this $1 million could be the beginning of a continuing program.
“I think we can find some good landlords to work with,” Sayah said. “I’m very optimistic that we can keep this going.”
Story by: Ottawa Citizen