Two Liberal members of Parliament were at an East Van apartment building Tuesday, announcing the first funding from the federal government to the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation in a generation.
Considering how long it’s been since they’ve received any dollars from Ottawa, Metro representatives were pleased with the federal government’s commitment of $1.3 million for repairs and renovations on 45 units of non-market housing in Vancouver.
But it was hard not to notice that Tuesday’s Vancouver announcement came 11 days after another federal funding announcement, in Toronto, of $1.3 billion — with a “b” — for repairs and renovations to 58,000 units of non-market housing in that city.
Metropolitan Toronto’s population of 5.9 million is more than double Metro Vancouver’s 2.4 million. And Toronto Community Housing’s 58,000 units is about 17 times the 3,400 operated by Metro Vancouver Housing (the region’s second-largest non-market housing operator after B.C. Housing). Both the Vancouver and Toronto announcements this month involved funding from the new National Housing Co-Investment Fund, part of the Liberals’ National Housing Strategy. But the funding commitment for non-market housing repairs in Toronto was 1,000 times larger than Vancouver’s.
Asked about the discrepancy, the Liberal MPs at Tuesday’s press conference insisted more housing money will be coming to Metro Vancouver.
Adam Vaughan, MP for the downtown Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York and parliamentary secretary for the federal housing minister, made the announcement Tuesday in Vancouver. Vaughan described this week’s Vancouver announcement as “a small one, but an important one, because it opens the door for more.”
“What Toronto did was bundle all these applications together to simplify the process,” Vaughan said. “And we’re in conversations now with the major housing providers in the Lower Mainland to do the same sort of thing, to bundle collective capital repair programs together.”
B.C. Housing, which funds 44,850 affordable housing units in Metro Vancouver, confirmed it is talking with the federal government. In a written statement, B.C.’s Housing Ministry said: “Over the past couple of months we have had discussions with CMHC on potentially partnering on bundled capital repairs.”
One Vancouverite who noticed Toronto’s $1.3 billion announcement — $810 million in loans and $530 million in cash — was Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry. He took to Twitter on April 5, the day of the Toronto announcement, to comment that while he was happy for Toronto, “similar intervention needed here in Vancouver, too.”
Reached after Tuesday’s Vancouver announcement, Fry said: “I’m happy to see it, and I’m looking forward to more announcements like this because we certainly need it.”
“This is a literal drop in the bucket,” Fry said. “But it’s appreciated.”
Fry’s mother Hedy, the longtime Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, was at Tuesday’s announcement on behalf of the federal government. She stressed the importance of the current federal government’s move to “get back into the business of housing” with the 2017 launch of the National Housing Strategy.
Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation Chair Sav Dhaliwal agreed. Dhaliwal, a Burnaby councillor for 16 years, said: “This is a long way from where the federal government was a few years ago. Now they have a national housing strategy, which to us, means basically a signal now that the government is listening on housing.”
“So, they need to do something much more drastic. $1.3 million is very welcome, but, really, we need some major amount of money,” Dhaliwal said.
The latest benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver is just over $1 million, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, and the benchmark price for a detached house is $1.4 million.
The $1.3 million announced Tuesday will help fund repairs on the roof, windows and balconies of Kelly Court, a 45-unit East Vancouver social housing building for people with disabilities.
Older apartment buildings like the 1980-built Kelly Court make up an important part of a city’s housing stock, in part because their age makes them more affordable than new developments.
But keeping those buildings in good repair — while still charging affordable rents — is a major challenge. Just last weekend, tenants of an affordable housing complex in Strathcona held a protest rally outside their building, after spending six months without a working elevator.
Ravi Chhina, Metro Vancouver’s general manager of parks and housing services, said Tuesday’s federal contribution represents about a third of the $4.5 million project cost for Kelly Court. The other $3.2 million will come from Metro Vancouver’s maintenance reserve, which is funded through tenant rents.
“This is the first time in 29 years that we’ve received any federal funding,” Chhina said. “The federal government helped establish (Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation) in the early days, in the 1970s, through grants and low-interest mortgages. … But it’s been a while.”
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