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BC's Coleman presses Ottawa to loosen strings on housing funding

British Columbia's Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said he has asked his Ottawa counterpart for more flexibility on how new federal housing dollars may be spent.

Coleman stopped short of calling it a “disagreement” with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government over a $1 billion fund for renovating or retrofitting existing social housing, but said, "We think we could deploy the dollars better.”

The fund, to be spent over two years, was included in the federal government's January budget.

Coleman has been in touch with Diane Finley, the federal human resources and skills development minister, he said, adding he's hopeful she will see things his way.

“What they did is they said the renovation money was only for projects that were federal-provincial projects at the beginning,” said Coleman. “Since we've been basically managing our own housing for years, there's not been a lot of stuff built since the late 1980s under those types of partnerships, and we've maintained our stock pretty well, we think we could deploy the dollars better.”

The way the guidelines are written, the 25 single room occupancy hotels the B.C. government has bought in recent years would be ineligible.

“We would like to target the renovation dollars to some of the stock that we've purchased,” Coleman said.

“I've written the minister, given her spreadsheets on what we could do on opportunities and stuff like that and I talked to her last week. She's interested so I'll probably talk to her in the next day or so,” he said in a Feb. 25 interview.

A call to Finley's office was not returned by posting time.

The federal budget also earmarked $75 million for new social housing for people with disabilities, $200 million for Northern housing, $400 million for low-income seniors and $400 million for first nations.

B.C. has applied for a share of that funding, said Coleman. “We've gone back to them with a plan to match that up and tell them where we would deploy it.”

“We're very pleased they are going to spend the [housing] money,” said Robert Hobson, the president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. “We'd like to see that [federal] money roll as fast as possible with as few conditons as possible so municipalities can start spending it.”

While the funding is positive, he said, the UBCM would like stable, long-term, predictable funding for housing. “We don't yet see that in the housing.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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