Social housing to get boost

Elements of Tuesday's budget have already been made public:

• Overall stimulus packaged valued at about $21 billion.

• $1 billion fund to help retrain workers in hard-hit industries – mining, farming, and forestry communities.

• $2 billion for social housing.

• Some permanent tax cuts.

• $500 million to modernize farms and help provide better equipment.

• $50 million to expand slaughterhouses.

• $50 million to promote Canada's forestry sector abroad.

• $100 million for better forestry technology.

• Two new economic development agencies, one for southern Ontario and another for Northern Canada, making good on Conservative election promises made last fall.

• $34 billion deficit in the fiscal year that begins April 1, followed by a $30 billion deficit in 2010-11.


Source: Toronto Star staff, Star wire services

Poor, seniors and aboriginals expected to be among the beneficiaries of more than $2 billion out of federal government's stimulus package
January 25, 2009


OTTAWA–The federal government is poised to pump more than $2 billion into social housing nationwide – a sweeping investment aimed at helping the poor, aboriginals and seniors, the Star has learned.

The spending is expected to be part of the aggressive stimulus package unveiled in Tuesday's federal budget and could provide a boost for tradespeople hit by the slowdown in the new housing market.

"The spinoffs are significant and we are meeting a real need to mend a tear in our social safety net," said Diane Finley, the minister of human resources and skills development.

Finley said yesterday she's confident she's made the case for the big investment to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and hopes to see the result of her new sales pitch on Tuesday.

"There is a very significant need ... to upgrade the quality of the social housing that is in the current inventory," Finley told the Star in a telephone interview.

The housing package is expected to include:

The $1 billion renovation fund is meant to provide welcome refits to old housing in need of upgrades.

"A lot of this stock is very old. It's in serious need of renovation from a safety point of view but also from the point of view for energy efficiency," Finley said.

"That's important to remember. People who are in social housing are often seniors. They're often people with fixed income or very low income, and I'd like to see some energy efficiency there that would reduce what they have to pay for their energy bills," she said.

Because of that, Finley said there will be a "green" focus to the investments as old housing units get new windows and other improvements that help reduce their energy demands.

"Almost any renovation that is done these days with windows and that sort of thing is going to be an improvement over what was in the original housing stock that may be as much as 40 or 50 years old," she said.

"Just complying with today's building codes and standards, people who are living there would see a significant improvement," Finley said.

Normally, Ontario would expect to get about 30 per cent, or $300 million, of the $1 billion national fund for renovating social housing. But in a pre-budget paper, an Ontario social housing group estimated that this province alone needs $1.2 billion by 2012 to renovate existing social housing stock.

Toronto Community Housing, the city's social housing provider, says the immediate need in the city is for $300 million, or $1.1 billion over 10 years. But Toronto's estimated take of the fund would be about $120 million.

As for the whole $2 billion package, the federal Conservatives are hoping there will be another crucial spinoff – jobs. As with most of the federal spending to be unveiled this week, preserving and creating employment is a key impetus for the housing cash.

"As the new housing starts decline, we're seeing people losing their jobs in the construction sector and that's a key driver in our economy," she said.

"When contractors are at work, it stimulates the whole economy. ... It's labour intensive so it puts people to work," Finley said. "It really is an efficient way to create jobs. We can do it quickly."

The minister also estimated that 80 per cent of the materials used in construction are Canadian-made, creating "significant" spinoff benefits.

If the housing money is confirmed in Tuesday's budget, Finley said she's hoping to move quickly.