Remarks by Stéphane Giguère at Finance and Economic Affairs Committee

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 (OTTAWA) – This morning, OCHC Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Giguère, and Chief Operating Officer Guy Arseneau, appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs as a part of their Pre-Budget Consultations. Mr. Giguère provided the following remarks to the committee:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Stéphane Giguère, and I am the CEO of Ottawa Community Housing Corporation. I am joined this morning by our Chief Operating Officer, Guy Arseneau.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to sincerely thank the Committee for inviting us to appear before you this morning to offer our input in your pre-budget consultations.

With nearly 15,000 homes and 32,000 tenants, OCHC is the largest landlord in Ottawa, and the second largest affordable housing provider in Ontario. We provide social, affordable, and community homes to some of our city’s most vulnerable residents. But we are more than just a landlord. We recognize that we have a key role to play in helping to meet Ottawa’s affordable housing needs.

Today, we would like to offer two concrete recommendations to this committee on how we believe the Government of Ontario can achieve its objective of making housing more affordable for Ontarians.

First, we recommend that the Government of Ontario repurpose some of its current investments in new affordable housing construction to set up equity partnerships so that we can move from “grantrepreuneurs” to entrepreneurs with a social purpose.

There is an urgent need for more affordable housing in Ottawa and across Ontario, and we know that the demand is far outpacing the supply. More and more people are turning to the rental market, as the cost of buying a home becomes more and more prohibitive. In fact, from 2006 to 2016, the number of rental households in Ontario increased by 18.9%. And in Ottawa alone, within that rental market, more than 10,000 people are on the social housing registry, awaiting more affordable homes. For some families, the wait can be up to 10 years.

Indeed, in Ontario, 15.3% of residents spend more than the CMHC-recommended 30% of their gross income on housing.

And just as more people are turning to rental housing, it is becoming more expensive for corporations like OCHC and the private rental market to build to meet those demands. From 2011 to 2016, the private purpose-built rental sector built 4,500 new homes per year, but that only accounted for 13.5% of the increase in demand over that period. Over that same period, even less affordable homes were built, and it is estimated that the current backlog for affordable rental homes in Ontario is between 29,000 and 35,000. We also see a very low vacancy rate of 1.6%.

That’s why we believe that as the need for affordable rental housing grows, and as the government is looking to cut barriers and red tape, that our solution of introducing equity partnership with housing providers is a proven and a more cost-effective way of achieving the government’s objectives of increasing housing supply and affordability. This model has provided positive results in the United Kingdom, Australia, and recently in British Columbia.

For OCHC, the biggest barrier that we face in building new affordable homes is the cost of building. That’s because we cannot recuperate those costs through revenue generation or rents. With this crucial investment, we would be able to start to close the gap for those in need of more affordable places to live in our city.

With an investment through an equity partnership between the government and corporations like OCHC, the government could move away from funding on a project basis, thus removing administrative burdens and allowing greater flexibility.

And at OCHC, we are ready to build. We have developed an ambitious portfolio management framework, and we are in a position to deliver new affordable rental homes in Ottawa, but we need Ontario as a partner to make this happen.

I will also quickly mention another important barrier that is faced by providers such as OCHC, which is the siloed approvals process for new affordable housing projects. We believe that by encouraging provincial departments to speak to each other more and break down some of those barriers, that we will both be able to achieve our mutual goal of making housing more affordable for Ontarians.

Before I conclude on this recommendation, I would like to remind committee members that these investments are not only good for those in need, but that they are also good for the economy.

A University of Toronto researcher released a study which concluded that for every dollar invested by government in residential construction in Canada, there was a return of $1.52 on the GDP. Similarly, we know that building one affordable housing unit is estimated to create between two and two and a half jobs.

We also know that affordable housing is cost effective. The cost for government of housing a person for a month in a hospital bed is $10,900; in an emergency shelter, it is $1,932; but in social housing, it only costs about $199.

Our second recommendation is that the government implement a new program to invest in the creation of new healthcare housing partnerships.

At OCHC, we are about to open one in the Carlington community here in Ottawa. This new development will provide affordable homes to tenants as well as services to an aging population under the same roof. Through a partnership with the Carlington Community Health Centre, and funding through the Investment in Affordable Housing program and the Ministry of Health, OCHC built 42 affordable homes for seniors, with a community health centre and a clinic located on the ground floor. This will allow those seniors to access primary care in the same building which they call home.

Ontario faces significant healthcare challenges, and this government has made a commitment to ending hallway medicine. Providing for a program to support innovative partnerships between housing and healthcare providers geared towards seniors and other populations would have many benefits.

First, with the population of Ontarians over the age of 65 expected to almost double in the next 20 years, and the decline in housing affordability, this model would help meet that need.

Secondly, this model is cheaper than traditional long-term care facilities or hospital care.

Housing is a determinant of health. Simply put, when someone experiences homelessness or is improperly housed, it can have major detrimental effects on a person’s health. That is why we believe this type of partnership is such an important model to replicate.

In closing, I would like to thank the committee for its attention and reiterate that there is an urgent affordable housing need in Ottawa, and that we need all levels of government, including the province, at the table to help us meet the needs within our community.

OCHC is ready to be a partner and has the expertise and the resources to help meet our shared objective of building more affordable homes. We look forward to working with you.

Thank you, and I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

 

Media Contact

Nathaniel Mullin

Communications and Media Specialist

343-997-5700

media@och.ca

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