Housing Shell Game

All right, confession time: I have a cynical streak. Which is sometimes better to have out front than my mean streak…

So my little antennae were waving when I went to press conference this morning held by the Ottawa Social Housing Network billed as being the “Housing Answer”.

It was held on the third floor of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, on their gorgeous roof top patio, overlooking the adjacent Cornerstone social housing project (which I support unreservedly).

And what is the housing answer? It’s something that will need no city tax increase. Indeed, it will need no city budget increase. And it will deliver new social housing AND ensure existing housing gets repairs.

At this point my cynical brain was thinking of those energy marketers that guarantee you below market gas for the next half decade. Or fabulous energy savings from funny-shaped light bulbs. Roof top solar. Millions of TV channels for a low introductory price. Free internet.

It turns out their Answer was a bit of a letdown. The Province is uploading a bunch of social programs. So starting in 2011 and gradually increasing to 2017, what are currently city-paid-for programs will become province-paid-for programs (savings to the city: 40 million in 2011, 80 million per year by 2017).

Well, these aren’t fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, because they’ll probably get their money. What they propose is that the municipal savings from the uploading be kept by the city and they’ll spend it on the taxpayers behalf. Now they probably won’t get it all, there’ll be lots of hands out for the money bonanza, so the housing folks will be happy with 15 million per year ad infinitum.

Oh, I accidentally mentioned a word in the above para that I wasn’t prominent at the press conference. Taxpayer. If the city taxpayer isn’t going to pay for certain programs being uplifted, and should instead spend the money on something else … then who pays for the uplifted programs? I swear I shivered as I felt Dalton’s hand slip into my left front pocket and pull out my wallet [as the teens would say at this point: no homo].

Still, it was an interesting press conference to see the social housing mindset. They are being proactive, being first in line for the pot. We all know who is last at the end of the line.

I asked a few of the social housing keeners at the conference if this isn’t just a shell game, it all comes down to the lowly taxpayer. These impertinent questions got misdirected with answers about social justice, the evils of downloading, etc. Only one player  half admitted that sure, it was a bit of a redirect.

On a more cheerful note, here is the Cornerstone project on Booth. It is supportive housing for seniors and other women. It will be staffed 24/7

4 thoughts on “Housing Shell Game

  1. Thank you for being “cynical”. I call it realist. I often find myself wanting to shout that the emperor has no clothes but no one wants to hear it. I also try to point out to people that whether one level of government pays for it or another, it’s still all your tax dollars. Somehow, it doesn’t resonate.

    What the city needs to do is come up with some rules about how developers must provide some affordable housing as a price for being allowed to develop when they building on speculation.

  2. I don’t mind paying taxes for real things. Social Housing and all day kindergarten are 2 examples. The wonderful public art program is a good municipal example. Dalton, I know you read WSA, please raise my taxes to pay for more items like these that make my life and my community better.

  3. Eric – I think where isee a difference in the Ottawa taxpayer and the Ontario taxpayer is that social housing is overwhelmingly a big city issue (in that in smaller places, housing costs aren’t as high), so if it is municipalities paying, it is essentially rural/small communities offloading costs to the big cities. Provincial funding ensures that this is done equitably.

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