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Funding cuts start to hit home

Province's cancellation of cap-and-trade program results in loss of $2.2 million in funding for social-housing projects in Barrie and Orillia, in spite of the county wait list increasing by 6.7%
2018-07-27 Simcoe County Admin 1 RB
The Simcoe County Administration Centre in Midhurst. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

Social housing in Simcoe County took a hit from provincial government cuts on Tuesday morning, and Warden Gerry Marshall says if the cuts keep coming, raising property taxes might be the only solution.

While the GreenON cancellation (reflected in Simcoe County as a $200,000 repair for two boilers) didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to county council committee of the whole, the bigger hit came when it was brought forward that the Social Housing Apartment Improvement Program (SHAIP) will now not be able to proceed due to the cap-and-trade program cancellation by the PCs, amounting to the housing retrofit program now coming up short in the amount of $2.2 million.

“These programs are needed. These are not monies that are being misspent,” said Marshall, in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “We have a wait list of 3,600 residents who are looking for housing. That boiler provides heat to residents that now, won’t have heat. We need their support for these programs.”

When asked how the boiler will now be fixed, Marshall says borrowing is the only option.

“We’re now going to fund the boiler through county dollars. It’s a domino effect for us now though... the need doesn’t go away,” he said. “We don’t want to have the province downloading the financial burden onto lower-tier municipalities.”

“Now it’s being funded on the local taxpayers’ backs. If the province downloads responsibility, the only other source of revenue is to increase local property taxes. What we’re saying to the (provincial) government is, let’s not play that game,” said Marshall.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke sees no easy solution to the situation.

“If we’re going to make a meaningful difference, we need our upper-tier partners,” he says. “I get a lot of requests to the mayor’s office when people find themselves in desperate situations, and my heart goes out to those folks. We need to find meaningful ways to address them.”

Clarke sees the issue of cancelling social housing projects as having a ripple effect.

“That type of loss is significant, and will have long-term negative ramifications in other areas. My hope is that the new government understands that,” said Clarke in an interview, after the meeting. “Even though we’ve lost the funding source as it was, maybe a new funding source will come forward.”

When asked about whether municipal sources of funding will be explored to fill the gap, Clarke was reluctant to confirm.

“We’ve already been forced to do that by upper-tier government actions of the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “We’ve been looking at opportunities to find properties, or partner with stakeholders to come up with social housing prospects. So, yes, and we’ll continue to do that. But there’s only so many dollars in municipalities to go around.”

During the meeting, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman expressed concern over the cancellations.

“Regardless of your politics on carbon pricing or cap and trade, has the county expressed its extreme displeasure at the loss of $200,000 for the emergency repair of a boiler?” asked Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman. “Also, the loss of $2.2 million in funding for social housing due to a similar move by the province.”

“Has there been correspondence to express our concern about that?” he asked.

Simcoe County CAO Mark Aitken took to the microphone to address Lehman’s concerns.

“The short answer is, yes. It’s pretty concerning,” said Aitken. “I can tell you though with discussions I’ve had with other CAOs from some of the larger municipalities, we have been told and we’re hopeful that although there’s cancellation to a number of these programs, that housing, addiction and mental health are big-time on the radar of the new provincial government.”

Lehman continued to remind all the councillors who would be attending Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference next week, that now would be a good time to bring up this issue.

“This would be a very appropriate matter to raise, our concerns around these types of new impacts on our most vulnerable residents, as a consequence of the cancellation of these programs,” said Lehman.

Locally, the SHAIP program promised cap-and-trade funding to support retrofits for social housing sites. The money was planned for energy-efficiency upgrades at the sites and retrofits, which use the latest low-carbon energy technologies.

In Year 1 (2017-18), three Barrie housing sites: Gateway Cooperative, Barrie Municipal Non-Profit Housing and Coral Non-Profit Housing were promised $1.8 million. That funding is still being delivered.

In Years 2 to 4 (2018-2021), two projects in Barrie (Simcoe County Housing Corporation and St. Mary’s Seniors) and two in Orillia (Mariposa Place and Elizabeth Overend) were to receive $2.2 million. That funding has been cancelled.

The matter was compounded by the separate announcement of the centralized wait list report during the county meeting, which indicated the county-wide wait list for social housing has increased by 6.4% in 2017, despite efforts being made to increase social housing across the county.

When reached for an interview on Tuesday, Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin said the cap and trade program was a regressive tax, and hurt low-income earners.

“By getting rid of cap and trade we’re helping those that need it most,” she said. “As a result, the cost of nearly everything is going to decrease and it will result in a savings.”

“So, projects like this, while it is unfortunate, overall we will be helping by getting rid of this tax,” she said.

Khanjin points to announced programs that will help with this issue in other ways.

“We were clear during the election that we have an issue with housing prices and shortages in Ontario,” said Khanjin. “We’re doing things like increasing supply to reduce housing costs, but also the announced mental-health funding. It’s not just for mental health and addiction, it’s also about housing support. That’s $3.8 million in support over 10 years that will also go toward housing that is much needed in our county.”

Khanjin is very willing to work with local municipalities in her riding to try to help find solutions.

“As a local MPP, I’m happy to help find other ways that we as a community can get such projects off the ground, but doing it off the backs of those who need help the most isn’t the best way to do that,” said Khanjin.

Questions posed to Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey and Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop were not answered by press time. If answers are received, this story will be updated.