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Ottawa Centre candidates focus on housing crisis in bid to replace MP McKenna

An Ottawa city councillor is concerned with the finer details of any candidate's plan.

The riding of Ottawa Centre is looking for a new Member of Parliament after outgoing infrastructure minister Catherine McKenna announced her retirement. 

The New Democrat and Liberal parties have swapped the riding back and forth for the last 42 years. 

The big campaign issue here appears to be housing affordability and availability. 

One of Canada's leading housing policy experts Steve Pomoroy lives in Ottawa Centre, and says the National Housing Strategy has had issues.

"We're actually spending a lot of money in the national housing strategy, and not actually making any progress towards helping affordability," he explains.

Pomoroy says programs like the First-Time Buyers Tax Credit aren't working as intended, and the problem with rising house prices isn't blind bidding or foreign buyers. He says there's just too many people with too much money in the market.

"If you've accumulated equity of a million dollars or $1.2-million over the last 15 years, now you're only taking on a mortgage of $200,000 at very low rates. So it's very, very easy for those folks to buy those homes."

high home prices are keeping people renting, pushing rental prices up, and driving out those at the lower end. The riding's Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi's plan includes 1,700 new affordable housing units for the riding, and the party's already agreed to back it. 

"It can be done, and I'll do that by working with all partners; City of Ottawa, the provincial government, our social housing providers," says Naqvi. "I have those relationships."

But Pomoroy says federal plans to increase rental supply won't match the number of units leaving the market each year. Plus, Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney has problems with the definition of "affordable."

"They define affordable as 30 per cent of median income in the area. So in Ottawa? The average median household income is $109,000 a year. So what that comes out to per month, is about $2,700 a month, for a rental," the councillor exclaims.

"We're done with trickle down economics," says NDP candidate Angella MacEwan. "We're done with being told we can't have nice things. That our lives can't be easier. We know we can."

MacEwan points to her party's plan: building 500,000 new affordable units in the next decade, and more non-market, co-op housing, rather than private development. 

But McKenney says their concern is with the finer details of any candidate's plan.

"All candidates have to come out with both a number and a plan of how they're gonna get there. If you're going to give me a number, how many will get supportive housing? How many people will we be able to take people out of shelter? And our shelters are filled every night [with] over 2000 people. How many, in any number you give me, will come out of a shelter. How many will be able to be removed from our waitlist. How many will we ensure won't fall into homelessness?"

CityNews reached out to Conservative candidate Carol Clemenhagen multiple times over phone, email and social media, but were unable to get a response. This is Clemenhagen's second federal race. The hospital administrator came third in 2019, with 12.5 per cent of the vote.

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