September 26, 2022

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Home Finishes First

Builders urge city to tap federal budget billions to speed home construction

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London builders will push the city to tap into a $4-billion federal fund to speed new home construction.

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The London Development Institute (LDI) and London Home Builders’ Association (LHBA) threw their support Friday behind the recent federal budget, calling it “a genuine effort” to increase housing supply, support new home buyers and make housing more affordable.

“We think there is a significant effort here, we are really happy to see this,” said Jared Zaifman, chief executive of the London Home Builders’ Association. “They want to double the housing built over the next few years. This is a genuine effort. This crisis has been building.”

The two local organizations pledged to work with the City of London to access Housing Accelerator Fund cash, to be funneled through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., though there are few details about how money will be distributed and where, said Mike Wallace, director of the London Development Institute.

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“This looks like an opportunity for municipalities to obtain funding for projects that will accelerate, and approve, applications to improve the housing supply,” he said. “We are happy to work with the city and look at opportunities to obtain some of that money.”

The development community has been lobbying the city to fast-track approval and building of new homes to increase supply, exactly what this fund will address, Wallace said.

The accelerator fund aims to build 100,000 new homes over five years.

The budget also took serious steps to address the affordability crisis, increasing money for geared-to-income homes, rapid housing initiatives, housing the homeless and supporting first-time buyers, all badly needed in London, said Abe Oudshoorn, a local housing advocate.

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“It is great to see housing a No. 1 priority, front and centre, in the budget,” he said. “There are very important elements here.”

The budget includes $1.5 billion to continue the rapid housing initiative for two more years to build 6,000 affordable housing units, with 25 per cent of that going to women-focused projects.

“Just to keep that going is great,” said Oudshoorn, noting the initiative has backed several London housing projects.

Housing the homeless gets about $500 million, which will benefit agencies like London’s Unity Project.

One of the more significant announcements was an additional $500 million and a loan of $1 billion to improve geared-to-income co-op housing, which badly needs support locally.

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“It’s a significant amount. We have to build new units or we will lag behind,” Oudshoorn said.

The goal of the Co-Operative Housing Development Program is to build 6,000 homes over five years and it will offer funding for repairs and renovations, he said.

The budget failed to address a critical need for more funding for the Canada Ontario Housing Benefit that tops up social assistance or disability benefits to allow recipients to pay market rents, Oudshoorn said. The very popular program will continue, but has a waiting list.

And while the budget announcements do take positive steps, “Do I see anything that will shift the needle significantly? No,” Oudshoorn said. “I don’t see anything that will be a game changer.”

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The budget also offers first-time home buyers incentive by creating tax-free first home savings accounts, doubling the first-time home buyers tax credit and extending the first-time homebuyer incentive to 2025.

Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy also cheered the budget and how it may filter down to London’s housing sector, saying the issue needs a broad, sweeping approach, and this may be it.

“This is pretty good and we have a number of projects,” that may get federal funding, she said.

“It’s recognition so much is needed to get people housed and to build housing and repair housing stock. It looks like a multi-pronged approach and that is what we have to take.”

City staff are experienced at tapping programs such as the new $4-billion accelerator fund to increase housing, Cassidy said.

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“I think city staff is very good at pivoting and adapting whenever funding opportunities come up. They come up all the time and staff is good at that,” she said. “There is no question we need to increase the housing supply.”

Patrick Cooper, city hall’s municipal housing development director, said the city is awaiting details of the federal budget to see how it will affect London. It is not yet clear how communities can used the cash or how much London could get.

“There is money for fast-tracking around the development process and we will look at how much is available to London,” he said.

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