Federal budget to include more money for apartment construction loans



The Liberal government has revealed another glimpse of what it will present in the coming federal budget, announcing it’s setting aside another $15 billion for an apartment construction loan program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the initiative is being called “Canada builds” and is meant to “turbocharge affordable apartment construction.” 

The new money will bring the loan program’s available funding to $55 billion, the government said, and is aimed at building at least 131,000 apartments in the next decade. 

The loan program was launched in 2017 and has helped create more than 48,000 homes so far.

“We’re going to make the entire pot of funding available for matching partnerships with provinces and territories who come to the table with ambitious and fair housing plans,” Trudeau told reporters in Toronto on Wednesday. 

Those plans can include low- and high-rise buildings so long as the money is used to build apartments “that the middle class can afford,” he said. Trudeau said the loan program is meant to ensure people can live where they work. 

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said that’s become a critical problem in her city. 

“When we try to hire personal support workers, public-health nurses, parks and rec workers, child-care workers, EMS workers, you name it — we’re having a hard time. Why? Because they say they can’t afford to work in the city,” she said.

The government is also reforming the program to extend loan terms and expand financing to include housing for students and seniors. 

The federal NDP panned the announcement and the strategy behind it, saying 97 per cent of the units built under the loan program are not affordable. 

“Trudeau’s out-of-touch housing strategy is dominated by loans to for-profit developers that don’t help Canadians who need homes they can afford,” said housing critic Jenny Kwan. 

And the Conservatives said in a statement of their own that this appears to be more of the same “failed policies,” pointing out that more than half the available funds under the apartment loan program are not allocated. 

“Trudeau’s photo ops won’t come anywhere close to building the 5.8 million homes that are needed to restore housing affordability for Canadians,” said housing critic Scott Aitchison.

The federal government appears to also have an uphill battle ahead to convince premiers to get on board. 

Many of the government’s marquee policies — from child care and housing to dental care and pharmacare — touch on areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction and require co-operation. That’s not been guaranteed across the country. 

On Tuesday, Trudeau announced a $6-billion infrastructure fund to support homebuilding and a $400 million top-up to the housing accelerator fund.

The Liberals say the funding for provinces and territories will come with conditions, including adopting the recently announced renters’ bill of rights.

While the slate of housing-related announcements earned praise from B.C. Premier David Eby this week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government won’t sign on to any federal deal that requires municipalities to allow fourplexes.

“The difference between ourselves and the federal government — and I want to work with them, I am working with them on a lot of different issues on a daily basis — I don’t believe in forcing municipalities. I believe in working with municipalities,” Ford said at a press conference Wednesday. 

He went on to say that municipalities are best positioned to ensure homes are built “where they belong.”

Asked about Ford’s comments, Trudeau said Toronto has come forward with an “extremely ambitious housing plan” under the housing accelerator program. 

“We’d love to do that right across the province, but if the province doesn’t want to step up with ambition on building the infrastructure needed to support more housing in general across the province, we’ll do it specifically with willing partners,” he said. 

Alberta’s social services and municipal affairs ministers released a statement Wednesday saying they have “deep concerns” about the Tuesday announcement, accusing the federal government of playing politics and bypassing the provinces.

“If the federal government wants to actually remove red tape and make housing more affordable as they claim, they will instead listen to our calls to remove the carbon tax so that building costs are lowered,” the statement from Jason Nixon and Ric McIver said.

The Liberal government has said affordability issues are its top priority for months, and made housing a central feature of the cabinet retreat held before the fall sitting of Parliament began last August. 

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is set to table the federal budget April 16.