Housing and affordability are core issues in Ottawa Center

Voters in Ottawa Center say they want housing policies that focus on affordability and availability, not just for families looking to buy their first home.

Appoline Kalonji says existing housing policies are aimed at a small group of people who already have money or a two-income household.

“I’m passionate about that because I want people in my category, my age [group]to be able to afford something as simple as housing,” she said.

“Shelter is important, it is one of the basic necessities of life.”

The 36-year-old said the pandemic has sharpened her focus on the affordability of essentials, but rising prices in Centretown have made a down payment out of reach.

Kalonji, who has been renting near LeBreton Flats for more than a decade, said housing policies should address all income levels, and she’s also concerned about the rate of homelessness.

CBC News spoke to voters in the Ottawa Center and many lamented housing affordability — from rising rents to the prospect of homeownership being out of reach — as a major driving problem.

They also mentioned important issues such as health care, student debt, climate change and social assistance for the most vulnerable.

Tristan Letourneau says his main problem in Ontario’s 2022 election will be the affordability of rent, food and gas. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Tristan Letourneau, a student at the University of Ottawa who rents near Little Italy, said inflation and affordability are top priorities for this campaign.

“If we could lower the rent, I think that would be” [the top priority]’ said Letourneau.

All four major provincial parties are discussing increasing the housing supply.

The Liberals, NDP and Greens are emphasizing increasing the housing stock managed by nonprofits and cooperatives outside the market price.

Non-profit organizations are struggling with money shortage

The Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation is a non-profit, tenant-led housing organization with 50 homes located throughout the city.

Executive Director Sarah Button said that while the housing pressure at Ottawa Center reflects broader trends in the county, it’s also where a lot of new housing stock — denser infill, taller towers — is being built.

“Anyone looking for housing knows: Just because it’s infill doesn’t mean it’s affordable,” Button said.

That’s why she said housing policies should address the needs of people at different income levels, including those forced to make difficult choices because of housing costs and suitability.

She said nonprofits would benefit from faster approval of government funding for their projects.

“Where we might have something that we think is done now, if interest rates go up, you’re going to have to spend more on that project in grant financing,” she said.

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Housing and affordability are core issues in Ottawa Center

‘We need different priorities’: NDP candidate drafts housing plan

Joel Harden, who is running for reelection in Ottawa Center, says the provincial NDP would redirect housing funds to safe housing instead of shelters and motels.

Rent control not enough, says lawyer

The NDP, Liberals and Greens each pledge to bring back some form of rent control, which the Ford government removed from new construction in 2018.

Meg McCallum, interim director of the Alliance to End Homelessness, said the existing rental stock is not sufficient, even with rent control.

“Honestly, rents are already pretty high. Even if we control them at their current levels, there are a lot of people who can’t afford that monthly rent,” McCallum said.

She says it’s important to stop the loss of affordable units through so-called “renovation” — when a landlord evicts a tenant for sometimes superficial renovations so they can raise rents — through tenant protections and landlord licensing.

Candidates Respond

NDP candidate Joel Harden says his party would expand rent control between leases to discourage evictions and create a rent register so people can find out what the previous tenant paid.

He said landlords can have their renovations assessed to see if they qualify for a rent increase.

“Then they can request rent increases above the guideline, but that should not happen automatically,” says Harden.

The Liberals and Greens also say they would ask landlords to raise rents for renovations.

Housing and affordability are core issues in Ottawa Center
Some major provincial parties are proposing a vacancy tax on properties like this one on Parkdale Avenue in downtown Ottawa. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The NDP, the Liberals and the Greens are also proposing vacancy charges against developers sitting on properties where construction has been approved rather than making units available.

Liberal candidate Katie Gibbs says her party’s platform includes the creation of the Ontario Homebuilding Corporation to take on construction, which would build 10,000 affordable units in Ottawa.

Gibbs said tapping into the nonprofit sector to manage the “highly affordable” units is close to her heart, as a former chairman of a co-op board.

“It’s not just a way to get a more affordable rent, but [non-profits] also just generates such a great sense of community,” she said.

VIEW | Candidate says more rental properties are on liberal to-do list

Housing and affordability are core issues in Ottawa Center

Candidate says more rental properties are on liberal to-do list

Liberal candidate Katie Gibbs says the party platform includes a plan to build more affordable rental housing and turn to the nonprofit sector to manage them.

Green Party candidate Shelby Bertrand said her party wants to do battle with the financialization of the housing sector

She said their pledge to double social assistance for people in the Ontario Disability Support Program is also part of their housing policy.

“Those are the people who can’t even afford the average rent in Ottawa Center right now,” she said. “Those people are our priority.”

Progressive Conservative candidate Scott Healey was not available for an interview.

In a debate hosted by local community associations, Healey said the lifting of rent controls has contributed to the increase in rental supply in Toronto and Ottawa since 2018.

“Affordable housing is a supply issue,” he said during the debate. “It’s not more legislation, it’s not more bureaucracy, it’s not more taxes on people. It’s just a matter of supply and demand.”

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