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Canada's housing strategy having 'limited' impact on housing need, PBO says

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons Finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Parliament’s budget watchdog says the government is falling short of its aim to vastly expand Canada’s affordable housing stock despite a spending ramp-up in the billions.

In a report published this morning, budget officer Yves Giroux says Ottawa topped up expenditures on its national housing strategy by nearly one quarter for an average of $3.7 billion annually over the past three years.

But he says expired community housing deals with the provinces, a shift toward pricier affordable homes and program lags at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation have “limited the impact” of the Liberal government’s plan.

Since 2018 the CMHC, which oversees the bulk of the three-year-old strategy, spent less than half of the $1.2 billion allocated for two key initiatives: the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and the Rental Construction Financing Initiative.

As of last October, the Crown corporation had committed to creating 12,230 affordable housing units under the two programs, with nearly two-thirds of them capped at 72 per cent of median household income — well above the roughly half of median market rent mandated for the other one-third.

The report projects that the number of households in need of an affordable place to live will increase to about 1.8 million within five years unless more funding flows toward the problem.

In April, the federal budget promised $2.4 billion over five years, beginning with nearly $1.8 billion this fiscal year, for affordable housing and followed through on a pledge to tax foreigners who own vacant homes in Canada.