Billions for housing

A Liberal government fond of promising help for those working hard to join the middle class put its money where its mouth is Wednesday, unveiling a new housing benefit for low-income tenants, billions of dollars for repairing existing affordable housing units and a vision for building 100,000 more.

The portable housing benefit could eventually help 300,000 households after 2021 — when the money is to start flowing — and 2028 by providing on average $2,500 in help, and could go to those already in social housing and those on wait lists for a unit, the government says.

A new financing program will be established to allow housing providers to help them repair aging units, and to use their assets to leverage additional cash in order to build new apartments and homes. The $15.9-billion housing fund will create 60,000 new affordable housing units and allow repairs to 240,000 more, through grants and loans that prioritize mixed-income developments.

The document also says the government plans to create a federal housing advocate and table legislation to enshrine housing as a human right, requiring regular reports to Parliament on federal efforts to ease the housing burden for hundreds of thousands of families.

Although the Liberals are touting some $40 billion in spending over the next decade, the math includes almost $10 billion in planned spending, repurposes $4.8 billion in existing spending and relies heavily on the provinces and territories to add billions in matching funds.

The housing benefit, for instance, is supposed to be $4 billion over eight years, but that figure includes $2 billion from provinces and territories. Any province or territory that balks at the idea won't see the benefit.

That means the Liberals will need months to negotiate funding deals with provinces and three years in the case of the housing benefit.

Federal funds won't start to flow until next April. It's also unclear how much will be spent annually.

The reason much of the money won't be spent until after the next election in 2019 is because the federal government needs to take the time to get the details right and satisfy myriad local, provincial and territorial needs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday at an event in Toronto.

"We are looking at the realistic horizon that is going to not just put a Band-Aid on the problem, but create the kind of deep change and lasting impact that we know Canadians are going to need," Trudeau said.

"When we say the federal government is back for the long term, we mean it — and that starts with getting it right from the very beginning."

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