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Windsor's application for up to $70 million in housing funds rejected

Windsor's biggest climate polluters are old houses and how people get around the city, according to a recent administrative report. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
Windsor's biggest climate polluters are old houses and how people get around the city, according to a recent administrative report. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

Windsor's application to the federal housing fund has been rejected, closing the door on as much as $70 million in federal funding to build more housing.

A spokesperson from Windsor-Tecumseh Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk's office confirmed the city's application to the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) had been denied.

In a letter to Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, federal housing minister Sean Fraser said he watched council's Jan. 22, 2024 meeting where council decided "to stop short of the best practices we published to encourage cities to increase their ambition in their applications to the fund."

"[And] in the presence of applications from neighbouring cities that are determined to meet those standards, I cannot approve Windsor's application," Fraser wrote int he letter obtained by CBC News.

Dilkens' office declined to comment on Wednesday evening.

Fraser said his team had proposed an alternative motion to what the city had drafted, which he said was "less ambitious" than other cities — including London — had committed to.

"I expect my decision on this application will not come as a surprise," he wrote.

"There are municipalities in this country who have opted to end exclusionary zoning, and municipal governments who have made bold decisions to improve housing availability in their communities," Fraser wrote. "With more than 500 applications, and a finite amount of cash in the fund, only the most ambitious communities will receive funding."

Kusmierczyk told CBC News the denial of HAF funding was a "forgone conclusion" after council's stance on four units.

"I'm disappointed again for the working families that are struggling to find a home. I'm disappointed for seniors and young people that are struggling to find affordable housing," Kusmierczyk said. "They're seeing their rent going up and they're expecting us, they're looking to us to work together to do everything we possibly can to get more housing built."

Kusmierczyk said comparable cities like London, Hamilton and Guelph have signed onto the HAF fund.

"This is all about one unit: moving from three units to 4 units," Kusmierczyk said, noting the province of Ontario already allows three units by right.

Last week councillors opted to submit the city's application, which would allow four units by right in some parts of the city but not all, to the fund as originally proposed — despite information that identified the four-unit condition as a "minimum ticket" to unlocking up to $70 million in funding.

City staff have previously said the application was submitted last summer, before the federal government instituted the four-unit condition. The application was submitted as-is last week with an 8 to 3 vote of council. Councillors also voted to study the issue further.

Kieran McKenzie, shown at a Windsor city council meeting on Aug. 8, 2023, represents Ward 9.
Kieran McKenzie, shown at a Windsor city council meeting on Aug. 8, 2023, represents Ward 9.

Kieran McKenzie, shown at a Windsor city council meeting on Aug. 8, 2023, represents Ward 9. (Dax Melmer/CBC)

The dissenting votes were Couns. Kieran McKenzie, Fabio Costante and Renaldo Agostino.

On Wednesday McKenzie said he was not surprised by the decision.

"The City of Windsor is currently in a housing crisis. That fact is undeniable," he said. "We made the conscious decision to not proceed with an application that would be successful.

"The correspondence from the Minister certainly comes as no surprise, unfortunately, but this is where we are today."

Ward 7 Coun. Angelo Marignani, who was one of eight councillors who supported applying to the HAF fund without meeting the four-unit condition, said he was disappointed by the outcome.

"I'm happy to see that upper levels of government are really trying to help us; provincial and federal," he said, noting he believes there will be a future round of HAF funding to which the city could apply. "I appreciate that cooperation."