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St. John's getting over $10M in federal help to address housing shortage

Mayor Danny Breen and federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan say money from the housing accelerator fund will help kick start builds for 280 units in St. John's.  (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Mayor Danny Breen and federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan say money from the housing accelerator fund will help kick start builds for 280 units in St. John's. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Mayor Danny Breen and federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan say money from the housing accelerator fund will help kick start builds for 280 units in St. John's.
Mayor Danny Breen and federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan say money from the housing accelerator fund will help kick start builds for 280 units in St. John's.

Mayor Danny Breen and federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan say money from the housing accelerator fund will help kick start builds for 280 units in St. John's. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The City of St. John's added itself to the federal government's list to receive funding to build more homes amid the mounting housing shortage being felt across the country.

On Thursday, federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan announced $10.4 million to build 280 units within the city over the next three years.

The money comes from the $4-billion federal Housing Accelerator Fund, run by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

"Once developers have been given incentive programs by the provincial and the federal government that they can take advantage of, that will lead them to having more projects," Mayor Danny Breen told reporters after Thursday's announcement.

The funding allows the city to introduce some incentives and grants, but it's also being used to update development regulations to promote densification and improve policies that can accelerate the development of diverse housing types.

The money is essentially a pool of funds that developers and community groups can apply for to kickstart housing projects. The expectation is that it will also help spur the construction of more than 4,100 homes over the next decade.

The city applied for that funding last year, but only requested $2.8 million for 91 housing units.

At the time, federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser wrote a letter to Breen, saying the city's proposal "falls short of the ambition."

In October, the city countered with an amended proposal for $18.5 million and the expectation to launch construction projects for 475 housing units.

St. John's, N.L.
St. John's, N.L.

St. John's will have $10.4 million community groups and developers can apply for to help launch new housing builds. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Similarly, in February the City of Mount Pearl received $6.1 million from the same federal fund to build 180 units over the next three years. They expect that will lead to 2,000 units in the city over the next 10 years.

St. John's is still interested in growing density with a focus on multiplexes, tiny homes and backyard suites, depending on the neighbourhood.

Breen said it's common in St. John's for development and housing applications to be controversial.

"People I think are going to be given an opportunity still to understand what's happening in their neighbourhoods, but I think they have to be open to [the idea] that housing is going be different in the future than it has been in the past," he said.

A housing report commissioned by the city last year painted a bleak outlook for residents and prospective residents.

The report indicated the city's housing shortage is between 1,025 and 1,335 units, based on population estimates, which have been increasing and are expected to continue to grow. The report also projects the housing shortage could grow to between 2,740 and 3,770 units by 2028 and to between 3,610 and  5,310 units by 2033.

But Breen is optimistic, calling Thursday's announcement a win for the city and another step toward addressing the housing crisis.

He said the money accelerates the housing market where municipalities don't have the ability to build units themselves.

"Yes it's a victory. I think that we're going to be able to spur housing development in the city and it's a start of a new era in housing development in St. John's," Breen said.

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