Highrises under construction in Burnaby. (Shutterstock)

Federal housing funding is good for Burnaby—if it makes it this far west, mayor says

Mike Hurley is tentatively applauding the renewed interest from the federal government in housing in budget 2022.

By Dustin Godfrey | April 13, 2022 |5:00 am

The federal budget unveiled last week indicates a renewed investment in housing, but Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley says the devil is in the details.

Included in the budget is $1.5-billion in spending on the rapid housing initiative, which the federal government said is expected to add “at least 6,000 new affordable housing units” over two years.

The budget also includes a five-year, $4-billion incentive program for cities to speed up processes to get more housing built, which could come in the form of an annual per-unit reward. The federal government estimates that will add up to 100,000 new housing units over the next half-decade.

‘Very little of it seems to get to BC’

Hurley said it is good to see the federal government re-upping its interest in more affordable housing.

But he questioned how much of that funding will actually make its way out west.

“We’ve seen many billions announced over the years, but very little of it seems to get to BC,” Hurley said.

He added that it has often been “very, very difficult” to access funds the government has committed through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“[They are] very, very complicated application processes. For example, for a $50,000 seed fund, in the past, [meant] a 250-page application,” he said.

And the government has not yet provided details on how it will deliver affordable housing programs quickly, Hurley noted.

“There really needs to be something accelerated here to make a real difference in our housing,” he said.

One federally funded housing project

The federal government hasn’t exactly invested much into local housing, Hurley said, noting that Burnaby has six city-owned sites that have been pre-zoned and that are ready for development by the federal or provincial governments.

So far, the city has seen investment in one affordable housing project through the rapid housing initiative on 11th Avenue.

“We did receive $12 million towards that. Now, that sounds great, except it’s a site that can take 50 units, and they only funded 24 of those units. So that doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

“On one hand, they’re telling us to hurry up and do more density, and then we have a site that can take a certain number of homes, [and] they only fund half of that.”

Hurley said he believes too much of the federal housing funding goes to the Greater Toronto Area, where the greatest concentration of Parliamentary seats is.

“It’s been a real issue, I think for all of us in BC, to get our share of that funding,” he said.

And that’s despite the fact that BC has the most acute housing crisis in the country, an issue Hurley said supply alone can’t solve.

“There needs to be regulations around the amount of affordable that must be included in new developments, like we have done here in the city,” Hurley said.

“If all our projects go ahead, in the next five, six years, we will have over 5,000 affordable units within the city. That’s with the city’s own initiatives and nothing to do with any other level of government.”

The city defines affordable as costing 20% below CMHC-recorded median rents for the area, a definition the federal government appears to have adopted in this year’s budget.

The budget announced changes to its rental construction financing initiative (RCFI), which helps to fund the construction of new rental housing with low-interest loans and mortgage insurance.

Moving forward, the federal government is aiming for 40% of all units funded through RCFI to provide rent “equal to or lower than 80% of the average market rent in their local community.”

Meeting with federal officials

Hurley said he had a meeting yesterday, after his interview with the Beacon, to try to advocate for some of that funding to come to Burnaby.

“And Terry’s been working hard. To give him his dues, he really pushes hard for Burnaby,” Hurley said.

He added that he’s also planning to meet with Jagmeet Singh and Peter Julian with hopes of working with them to advocate for more housing in their ridings.

“We’re going to be meeting with Jagmeet and Peter Julian and anyone else we can meet with,” he said.

“And I have a good relationship with the federal minister, and certainly I can call him up and put our bids forward again. He’s very, very well-aware of what’s available in Burnaby if they’re willing to just step up.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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