OTTAWA – Not all ministers have lived their portfolios in the way that newly appointed Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen has.

After arriving as a Somali refugee, Hussen lived with his brother in a subsidized apartment in Regent Park, the neighborhood that gave him enthusiasm for the task Justin Trudeau assigned him: to make housing more affordable and to make housing more affordable. .

The prime minister says it is a political priority for his government.

Hussen says it’s personal.

“When I lived in Regent Park, it was the oldest and largest social housing neighborhood in Canada, built in 1948. It was falling apart. There was no service, very few services, very little maintenance. But despite the fact that it was the oldest and very run-down neighborhood, having that roof over my head allowed me to go on a race, even dreaming of going to university, “he said in an interview.

“I could never have been able to afford a rental unit on the market and go to college at the same time as a new refugee in Canada, so I know the importance of that. Was it a suitable house? Was it a house that met all my needs? No, but it was a roof over my head and I can tell you that it made a difference in my life. “

Hussen, a lawyer and former head of the Canadian Somali Congress, was first elected as a deputy in 2015. Now, in his third ministerial position, he aims to make a difference in the housing crisis in Canada.

This week, by appointing Hussen as his housing minister, Trudeau also reorganized the government’s efforts on homelessness and housing “affordability.”

Now both archives are together under one minister and one roof. Hussen will be responsible for the Mortgage and Housing Corporation of Canada and what used to be Canada’s Secretary of Employment and Social Development for the homeless, both integrated as a department within the infrastructure department. He will work closely with Infrastructure Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who is also minister for intergovernmental affairs, to take advantage of relations with the provinces.

It’s not the first time you’ve brought a personal perspective to work. That was the case when he became minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship in 2017.

The father of four children (the youngest, a girl, born this week just after the last Trudeau cabinet inauguration), Hussen was recently Minister of Family, Children and Social Development, where he signed childcare agreements with seven provinces and one territory. , and implemented a $ 1 billion “quick-housing” strategy to combat homelessness during COVID-19 that converted hotels and motels into housing units.

Hussen speaks at a mile an hour about his plans, which cover the gamut of electoral promises from Liberals on housing, an area in which opposition parties also campaigned and where Liberals can find something in common in Parliament. looming minority.

Hussen said he has the same definition of affordable housing that many Canadians have: “use no more than 30 percent of your household income on housing costs, whether it’s rent or whatever.”

But he said Canadians understand that it depends on where you are in the country, “and in big urban centers, that’s not what the market looks like anymore.”

However, he said the federal government is committed to that goal in its affordable rental housing deals. “In those projects, there is an understanding and a commitment and signed agreements to keep those units at 30 percent of household income or less.”

The liberal government says it will establish a $ 2.7 billion fund for nonprofit housing providers to acquire land and buildings so they can build more affordable housing, which Hussen says will help break down the “biggest barrier.” and it will put nonprofit developers “on an equal footing with the private sector, where when land or property is available, they can take it and secure it.”

Hussen also wants to ensure that “teachers, construction workers, paramedics, firefighters, those who can pay a certain amount of rent but are being excluded from the rental market, especially in the larger urban centers,” have access to more of what he said are “affordable” rental units.

He wants to expand the supply of subsidized, nonprofit or cooperative housing for vulnerable people in need. You want to end chronic homelessness. And he wants to help younger and first-time home buyers enter the property market.

But his first order of business is to bring the bill of rights promised to home buyers, he said. It will prohibit so-called blind tenders in which bidders can know the sale price of a home but not what other potential buyers are offering, establish a legal right to home inspection, require “full transparency in recent sales history of housing and in title searches “. , ”And the government will take steps to restrict home ownership by non-resident foreigners, he added.

Still, it is the promised $ 4 billion housing accelerator fund that Hussen believes will do the most to expand the supply of housing in the nation’s largest cities.

It will be an application-based program that will support municipalities that “innovate” to accelerate zoning approvals (eg, through online technology, permitting) and that require more densification, mixed housing developments and geared toward public transportation. . “They have to show more ambition, they have to show more innovation and they have to show more openness, frankly, to go beyond the NIMBYism that we see in many parts of our country,” he said.

Mike Moffatt, senior director of policy and innovation at the Smart Prosperity Institute, said the housing accelerator fund is the “most potentially transformative” initiative because Ottawa uses its “deep pockets to basically accelerate reforms at the municipal level,” although no one seems to really know how it will work.

The other housing measures can be helpful, but “there’s nothing there that really makes home prices much cheaper or homes much more available,” Moffatt said, adding that limits have been tested on investors. non-BC resident foreigners and minimal effect off of some downward pressure on one-bedroom condo prices. “

Hussen is Canada’s first housing minister in nearly three decades, said Cathy Crowe, a longtime visiting practitioner in Ryerson University’s policy department and a longtime street nurse, and that move caught his eye. But she is skeptical of the liberals’ intentions.

Crowe said that the year Hussen immigrated to Canada, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien “canceled our national housing program and dumped homes to the provinces. So Regent Park disappeared and communities like the St. Lawrence neighborhood were never rebuilt because they lost that program. ”

Since then, Regent Park’s gentrification has led to a net loss of affordable housing units, he said. She is not so encouraged by all the talk about increasing homeownership, saying the biggest problem is affordable rental housing. That is where you would like Ottawa’s efforts to focus.

Crowe says what is needed is an “ideological” change and a “fully financed national housing stream that would include new construction that could be carried out by cooperatives, municipalities, non-profit organizations, which would ideally be paired by provinces.” the way the nursery is proposed “.

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