In need of a home: Affordable housing a key election issue in Ottawa Centre

There is a waitlist of nearly 10,000 people in Ottawa for subsidized housing and many stay on that list for more than five years, according to the City of Ottawa.

“I’ve got something like one project a week that we’re not able to do because funding or the economic circumstances don’t support it, said Ray Sullivan, executive director of the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC). The non-profit affordable housing organization hasn’t been able to develop any new homes this year due to decreased funding by the Conservative government.

In Centretown, in the Ottawa Centre riding, 35 per cent of tenant households are spending more than 30 per cent of their total income on housing, according to the 2011 National Housing Survey;  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada’s national housing agency, sets affordable housing as a shelter that doesn’t cost more than 30 per cent of household income.

“We’ve knocked on 70,000 doors and I go to affordable housing and social housing that is literally falling down,” said Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre.

On June 19, McKenna released a statement calling for a national housing strategy, well in advance of the Liberal Party of Canada’s housing platform, Affordable Housing for Canadians was released on Sept. 9.

Both Sullivan of CCOC and Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC), a non-profit health and social service organization, said a national strategy for housing is essential.

“It’s important to maintain what stock we do have, it’s precious to people who need to access it,” said Thibault. She identified two important affordable housing issues in Centretown: maintenance of older buildings and a mix of housing in the area, including high-, middle- and low-income units.

“It’s not just a case of social housing, but affordability of housing right across the spectrum,” said Sullivan, adding that a national housing strategy should address the affordability and accessibility of both tenancy and home ownership.

As a party, the Liberals have also adopted a policy recommendation to create an affordable national housing strategy, although it has not been directly included in their election platform.

While the NDP has not yet released a housing platform, party leader Tom Mulcair has promised to commit $5 billion to housing and other municipality infrastructure, according to the Toronto Star. Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre NDP incumbent has been active in supporting organizations involved in providing affordable housing in Centretown, like CCOC and CCHC.

“He’s actually a former CCOC tenant,” said Sullivan, “so he understands what we’re doing and the importance of affordable housing.”

Paul Dewar did not respond by press time.

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