British Columbia has only received 0.5 per cent of funding from the federal government’s National Housing Strategy program, according to an analysis NDP MP Jenny Kwan has received.
The analysis is based on housing strategy numbers Kwan obtained from the federal government on April 11.
The Liberal government has pledged more than $55 billion dollars in its National Housing Strategy to cut the homelessness rate by 50 per cent by building new units and conducting repairs.
Kwan, who represents the riding of Vancouver East, said she noticed that the city's housing situation was not improving despite her Liberal counterparts saying the program was proceeding well.
“I looked at what was happening on the ground,” said Kwan. “There’s a complete disconnect with reality.”
When Kwan asked non-profit housing groups in Vancouver whether they received federal funding, she got a simple, direct answer -- “nope.”
“They all just looked at me like I was from Mars,” said Kwan, who then began the process to get figures from the housing strategy fund herself. Through a parliamentary process that enables MPs to “order” information through written questions, Kwan asked for the number of applications that were received, being assessed, and finalized by the National Housing Co-investment Fund since 2018.
At $16.6 billion, the co-investment fund is the largest portion of money under the National Housing Strategy program.
The data that Kwan received, which she shared with the National Observer, shows that only 23 of 432 applications have been finalized. British Columbia had two agreements, while Ontario had 12. Quebec and Alberta haven’t received any funding so far.
The agreements will fund construction for 344 units in Ontario and 66 units in B.C.
B.C. MP @JennyKwanBC wasn't seeing the housing crisis in Vancouver improve since the federal government announced over $40 billion in funds for it in 2017. So she got a hold of the numbers.
“When we received the data, it really took my breath away,” said Kwan. “I was so shocked. I knew things were bad, but I didn't realize it was going to be this bad.”
Kwan said B.C.'s need for housing is urgent, as the province deals with a pandemic and opioid crisis, which Canada’s chief medical officer Theresa Tam said has been exacerbated by COVID-19 measures.
“It seemed to me that the government is only paying attention to the pandemic, and all the other pieces are kind of falling to the wayside.”
Kwan had also asked for the average time it took for applications to be finalized after they had been submitted. She says non-profits complain the process is tedious, long and expensive, requiring answers to about 200 questions. Groups even need the help of a consultant to complete their applications.
The average number of days for B.C. agreements to be finalized was 440 days, according to data Kwan received from the government.
When Kwan made her findings public on Twitter, she also claimed the Liberal government has been “doing their best to hide these numbers” because “they don't look good at all.”
She tagged MP Adam Vaughan, the federal government’s parliamentary secretary for housing development, who had previously admitted in an interview with the Toronto Star, that Trudeau had inflated housing numbers, claiming his government had helped one million Canadians find housing, for “rhetorical advantage.”
Vaughan responded on Twitter, saying that while he had used the “worst phrase ever,” at the time he was simply trying to explain the amount of funding promised in investment to new units at the time.
“MP Vaughn is, I suppose, a master at conflating issues,” said Kwan, adding that the numbers prove that few applications have been finalized for tangible construction to begin.
Vaughan did not reply to the National Observers's request for a comment.
Kwan said she has often found that western provinces are treated as an “afterthought,” given their distance from Ontario, were many members of Parliament are based.
When Kwan received the initial the co-investment fund numbers, she followed up with a July 29 letter to federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen, proposing a cost-sharing program, where the federal government goes in 50-50 along with B.C.’s provincial and municipal governments for housing development projects.
Kwan had also previously criticized the government’s Reaching Home program, a strategy that offers federal funding to shelters during COVID-19, so that they can operate under pandemic restrictions. She called for funds to be sent directly to the provinces, which Vaughan claimed would “effectively cancel” the program.
Vaughan did not respond to the National Observer’s request to clarify this comment.
Kwan has later clarified on Twitter that she wasn’t calling for cancellation of the program, but arguing that it wasn’t enough.
The MP is still obtaining more data, specifically for federal housing programs targeted towards Indigenous communities. She said she’ll continue to put pressure on the federal government to “come to the table” and consult with non-profit groups and Indigenous representatives. One of the first priorities, she said, was making the application process less onerous and more accessible.
“This can't be just a movie for them to watch from afar,” said Kwan. “They need to be a real participant and a real player at the table.”
Premila D'Sa / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer