Affordable housing and Homelessness, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa
Like all major cities in Canada, Ottawa is grappling with a lack of affordable housing and homelessness. Too many families and individuals are struggling to afford one of the most basic needs, shelter. The City’s emergency shelter system serves families and individuals as well as victims of domestic violence and people displaced by fires and floods. The number of people requiring emergency shelter fluctuates constantly. In the past, funding for emergency shelters was cost shared 80/20 between the Province and the City. Now it is a fixed subsidy that does not take fluctuation of demand into consideration.
Since 2016, the need for emergency shelter for families in Ottawa has increased. The demand is due to many reasons – immigration and migration (both from abroad and within Canada) and other pressures such as family violence and changes in a family’s economic and personal circumstances. The result is an over capacitated system and severe financial pressures.
The lack of affordable housing has left the City in a quandary. Families in crisis need a place to live. The City has an obligation to house them but there are simply not enough affordable places available as there has been an increase in rents coupled with a low vacancy rate. Ottawa has had to rely on entering into agreements with hotels/motels for temporary accommodation for families in need. More recently, the City has entered into agreements where apartments are used for larger families.
The City’s procedure towards using hotels/motels as temporary emergency accommodation is as follows, “Local hotel/motels are approached with a standard rate range to determine their interest in providing accommodation for families experiencing homelessness. Only a limited number of hotels/motels have agreed to participate and sign agreements with the City. The agreements establish the rates and services, but do not commit the City to do business with the establishment nor does it obligate the establishment to hold rooms on the City’s behalf. The agreements are reviewed regularly to ensure the landlord is abiding by the contractual obligations as set out.
City staff have one agreement whereby some apartments are used as temporary accommodations for very large families experiencing homelessness. The apartments are compliant with residential zoning and are the families’ homes for 6 to 12 months until they secure permanent accommodation. The City recognizes that furnished apartments with full kitchens and bedrooms provide a better environment for families than a traditional hotel/motel setting. In addition, these apartments, reserved for larger families, save the City money as they eliminate the need for the City to pay for multiple hotel rooms.” Currently, the City has separate agreements with 14 hotels/motels. These agreements are reviewed regularly to ensure that all obligations are met. As demand decreases, the City will reduce the use of the hotels/motels as accommodation. It is important to note that while housed at these locations, families in need continue to have access to 24/7 support through the City’s Family Shelter.
Without a doubt, there is a need to increase affordable housing in Ottawa. Increased Provincial funding, changes in zoning by-laws where specific types of units, such as 3-bedroom apartments, would be required, for example, better density and address construction costs are just some of the means that must be seriously considered. We must ensure that no one in our communities is forced to sleep on the street or in a car