The Capital Regional District has less than a month to decide how it wants to spend $13.1 million in new federal money for affordable housing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched the Rapid Housing Initiative Tuesday and gave cities until Nov. 27 to submit plans for their share of the $1-billion fund, which aims to create 3,000 affordable-housing units across the country.
“Right now, our largest cities face a growing need for safe and affordable housing,” Trudeau said. “We’re investing $500 million for immediate support to build long-term housing for municipalities that have the highest demand.”
The other $500 million will go to individual projects submitted by provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous governing bodies and non-profit organizations. The deadline for those applications is Dec. 31.
The Capital Regional District was one of 15 metropolitan areas selected to receive the money earmarked for cities based on need.
Colin Plant, who chairs the CRD board, said the district will reach out to member municipalities Friday to ask for their ideas and determine whether they have any land available for housing projects.
“We’re going to respond quickly and we’re going to make sure we have a plan in place for the November 27 deadline,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Plant said there are a number of ways the CRD could spend the money, including purchasing a motel or buying land for modular housing.
One of the keys, however, will be making sure that health services and other programs are in place to support people after they move into the units, he said. “We can’t just simply put someone in a house and think it’s going to be fixed.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who chairs the Capital Region Housing Corporation board, said the federal government expects participating cities to build at least 52 units with the allotted money.
But she said the district might be able to make the money go further by working with other levels of government.
“I think our best bets are to buy land and partner with the province to deliver as many modular units as possible,” she said.
The units have to be built within 12 months of receiving the money, she said.
“We need to work quickly, so that some other city across the country doesn’t get that $13 million. The federal government’s made it very clear — ‘Bring us a plan or your money is going elsewhere.’
“And I know that the CRD is really, really well-positioned to do that.”
The CRD’s Regional Housing First Program previously managed to turn a $40-million investment into $120 million by securing matching funds from the federal and provincial governments. That program now is on pace to have more than 1,800 affordable-housing units complete or under construction by the end of 2022.
Both Helps and Plant said it’s crucial that the district prove itself, since the Trudeau government has promised to invest $55 billion over 10 years to create 125,000 new housing units and renew another 300,000.
“I want us to do a good job here in the region, so that the next time the taps are turned on, more money comes our way,” Helps said.