November 2, 2020
Dear Members of City Council
Re: City of Ottawa Budget 2021
In 2013, the City of Ottawa adopted its 10-year housing and homelessness plan. Unfortunately, over the life of the Plan, homelessness has worsened in our community, not improved.
In 2019, homelessness in Ottawa was epidemic: over 8,000 people were in emergency shelters, over 12,000 people were on the waitlist for affordable housing, and almost 100 people were sleeping outside. That’s why Ottawa City Council unanimously declared a homelessness emergency and crisis in January 2020.
Since that time, the situation concerning homelessness has worsened due to COVID19, the continuing lack of affordable housing, and other factors. Every night, 1900 individuals are sleeping in a shelter bed, and the number of people sleeping outside this year has doubled since March.
We appreciate that of the $201M spent on housing in Ottawa, over $107M comes from the city, with the provincial and federal governments contributing $66.7M and $26.7M respectively. We also appreciate the commitment of $15 million in the annual budgets of 2019 and 2020 to new affordable housing.
Unfortunately, despite municipal investments in housing, from 2011-16, units in Ottawa renting under $750/month declined by 7,700 units, but only 1,033 new such units were added. As such, for every new affordable unit built in Ottawa, seven existing lower rent units were lost. Since 2017 new rental construction has increased substantially, however rents for these units are over 170% of the average level.
In June 2020, the City released its refreshed 10-Year Plan concerning homelessness as well as updated shelter data. In contrast to previous alarming increases in shelter users and the centralized wait list for affordable housing, increases this past year were much smaller, and there were declines in shelter users across categories except families. Having said this, there are areas of concern:
- Shelter nights increased by 13.5% and the number of families in off-site motels increased by 37.5%;
- Shelter length of stay has increased by 12.2%, with increases in youth above age 17, older people, newcomers, and Indigenous women; and
- There were significant increases in chronic and episodic homelessness across almost all populations.
Now, over eight months into Covid19, the pandemic has imposed a significant burden on our citizens, including financial pressures, compromised wellbeing, and increased risk of homelessness. According to recent Nanos Research polls for The Ottawa Mission and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness:
- Over one-third of Ottawans indicated that Covid19 has negatively impacted their personal finances.
- Nearly one in five Ottawans stated that COVID19 has increased the risk of homelessness for those they care about. Just under one in 10 stated that Covid19 has increased their personal risk of homelessness.
- Canadians view homelessness as an urgent issue: one in five believe it is urgent to work to end homelessness in Canada. And due to COVID19, nearly one in five Canadians reported being worried or somewhat worried about paying their housing costs. Astonishingly, 36% of Canadians report having been homeless themselves or knowing someone who has been homeless.
At the provincial level, the prohibition on evictions due to Covid19 has been rolled back and it is legal in Ontario to once again evict tenants who through no fault of their own have been unable to pay rent. In Ottawa, there are 36,000 households who spend more than 30% of their income on rent, the threshold for affordable housing. Because they spend more than what’s affordable, they’re already at risk of losing their housing. Lifting the ban on evictions despite the continuance of Covid19 heightens that risk and draws that line between those who are homeless and those who are not even thinner.
Prior to the establishment of the Jim Durrell Centre as an overflow shelter for homeless men earlier this year, The Ottawa Mission had been at over 100% capacity for emergency shelter beds for the past three fiscal years, worsening with each passing year. That meant that we laid down mats on our chapel floor each night to accommodate those who needed shelter. The overflow centre eased this situation and enabled us to enhance social distancing measures within our shelter to further minimize the risk of Covid19 while continuing to deliver desperately needed services. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the City to address this issue and enhance the opportunity to keep our shelter guests safe.
However, the need for emergency shelter beds is steadily increasing here, and we’re concerned in advance of colder temperatures since occupancy at The Mission usually increases by 10% or more during the winter.
At the federal level, the new Rapid Housing Initiative announced in October aims to provide up to 3,000 new affordable housing units within 12 months. Under this initiative, Ottawa will be allocated $31.9 million toward reducing chronic homelessness in our community.
In 2019, Nanos Research confirmed that people in our community thought that homelessness should be the number one priority of Ottawa City Council. The Ottawa Mission understands and appreciates that housing has to be joint responsibility of the City of Ottawa and the provincial and federal governments. This is why we continue to advocate at each level of government to work together toward solutions regarding our urgent and overwhelming need for affordable and appropriate housing, especially for vulnerable populations.
Accordingly, we advocate that the City of Ottawa:
- Increase its annual allocation dedicated to new affordable housing to $20 million.
- Accelerate plans within the refreshed 10-Year Plan to move forward with an inclusionary zoning bylaw to ensure that new developments include affordable housing units.
- Write to Premier Doug Ford and Minister Steve Clark to request that the provincial government immediately restrict all residential rental evictions, except in case of threats to public safety, and maintain this moratorium on evictions until the COVID-19 pandemic is effectively contained.
- Bring forward proposals for submission under the new federal Rapid Housing Initiative.
Many cities across Canada, such as Calgary, Medicine Hat, Chatham-Kent, ON, Dufferin County, Guelph-Wellington, Moncton and others have seen declines in homelessness through adopting innovations in their housing strategies.
Ottawa City Council showed tremendous leadership as the first city council in our country to declare an emergency concerning homelessness. I urge you to build on this leadership position by moving forward with the actions above to meet the needs of our citizens for appropriate and affordable housing to call their own.
Chief Executive Officer
The Ottawa Mission