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Feds unveil first deal for new housing accelerator fund in London

The Canadian Press
Feds unveil first deal for new housing accelerator fund in London

LONDON, ONT. — More than 2,000 new housing units should be built in London, Ont., over the next three years as the city became the first in the country to sign a deal under the new national housing accelerator fund on Sept. 13.

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

The $4-billion accelerator program was first announced in the 2022 federal budget but applications weren’t accepted until July.

Trudeau said London was the fastest to respond to the call for ambitious plans that eliminate municipal barriers to getting homes built more quickly. That includes, for example, zoning rules that limit the kind of homes that can be built in specific areas.

London’s proposal, which Trudeau called “absolutely visionary,” allows for building high-density housing developments without the need for rezoning and allows four units to be built on a single property even in low-density neighbourhoods.

London will receive $74 million toward the housing projects.

The announcement comes as the Liberals are facing heavy pressure to respond to a housing shortage that is compounded by two years of high inflation.

The Liberal caucus is meeting in London for a retreat before the House of Commons resumes sitting next week, and Trudeau is expected to get an earful from his MPs about the party’s flagging fortunes in the polls.

Various media reports have quoted backbench MPs as saying the party isn’t communicating its accomplishments well and that Trudeau isn’t listening to the concerns of MPs who are not in cabinet.

Quebec MP Brenda Shanahan, the Liberal caucus chair, said her fellow MPs are having “very frank” conversations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said those talks are crucial.

“We are going to have conversations that are sometimes not always easy, sometimes difficult, but necessary because we are a government that has been in power for eight years now, a government that has faced several crises and each time, we were able to overcome them.”

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said there are unprecedented measures coming on housing, and implied the London announcement is just the first of many.

“This announcement is one of a series of measures we’re going to be advancing over the course of the fall that are going to have a meaningful impact to get more homes built in this country,” he said.

Fraser said Ottawa is planning new measures to tackle the housing crisis, 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.

He also said the federal government will “work to change” how long it takes cities to issue zoning permits and find ways to attract immigrants with construction skills to Canada.

Fraser added the government will need to be “investing in innovation, like building homes in factories so we can actually be more productive with the assets that we have, with the investments that we make.”

The Liberals are also trying to signal they are prudent fiscal managers.

An ongoing spending review calls for a $15-billion cut over five years, and a drop of $4 billion each following year. Treasury Board President Anita Anand insisted that won’t affect priorities such as housing, affordability and support to vulnerable Canadians.

“We’re going to continue to be focused on those priorities while making sure that our own fiscal house is in order. And that’s what all Canadians are doing right now,” she said.

Charles Sousa, a Toronto-area MP and Ontario’s former finance minister, said the party needs to balance building more in the suburbs with managing federal spending.

“We have to do more collaboratively with the provinces and municipalities, and we have to find ways to be constructive,” he said.

“We redistribute wealth where necessary, but we have to promote growth; we have to promote economic vitality.”

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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