A City budget for all? What was in the draft budget and how it may impact our community

by Emilie Hayes

Mayor Jim Watson tabled the City of Ottawa’s draft 2018 budget on November 8. The draft budget explains how the City plans to spend its money in the year ahead, which has significant impacts on our community.

With an over $3 billion budget covering everything from waste management to social services, it can be difficult to understand what exactly is included, and not included, in the City budget.

Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) and Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) are both members of Making Voices Count (MVC), an initiative that works with city decision makers to create a city for all and promoted three “asks” in advance of the tabling of the draft budget.

MVC has analyzed the budget to help us better understand what is in the draft budget – both the good and the bad.

MVC asked for an additional $500,000 into base funding for City-funded social service agencies, as well as a two percent cost of living adjustment to address complex needs and increasing demand for services in the community.

The draft budget proposes to increase funding to social service agencies by $675,000, which reflects a two percent adjustment for cost of living, one percent for additional funding pressures from the upcoming minimum wage increase, and an additional base funding $325,000 for social service agencies. This reflects a total investment of $24.1 million to support social service agencies that provide access to the basics, including food programs, day programs, counselling and support services.

This is good news for City-funded agencies and signals that the City recognizes the importance of investing in the social infrastructure of our city.

However, last year’s sustainability fund drew $2.8 million in requests from community agencies, and the City was only able to distribute $500,000. This demonstrates the magnitude of the funding shortages in the community, which is felt by both SWCHC and CCHC as we work to meet the growing demands for crisis intake services, children’s playgroups, Chinese seniors’ day programs, LGBTQ youth counselling, access to affordable fruits and vegetables, and community services.

MVC also asked for a new “on-ramp” fund to allow community groups not currently receiving City funding to access more stable funding to address new and emerging needs.

For example, many critical community services such as Operation Come Home have no core funding, relying on fundraising and individual donations to continue operations. Unfortunately, there is no on-ramp funding in the draft budget.

While both SWCHC and CCHC receive City funds for some programs and services, new initiatives have emerged in recent years to address gaps. For example, food access programs such as the Good Food Markets and the MarketMobile, which serve the CCHC and SWCHC communities, continue to have no access to City funding and will be at risk.

MVC also asked the City to put $4 million back into housing so that more people have an affordable place to live. Unfortunately, this ask was not addressed, with almost all of the City’s commitments to housing being funded by the provincial or federal government.

Ottawa is experiencing significant challenges in housing and homelessness. The City’s family shelters are overflowing; over 40 percent of all renters in Ottawa are spending over 30 percent of their income on housing and there are over 10,000 individuals or families on the social housing waiting list, representing a five-year wait on average.

Both CCHC and SWCHC serve communities that are experiencing rapid gentrification and a corresponding reduction in affordable housing. We believe everyone has the right to safe and affordable housing. Although we applaud the critical investment being made at the provincial and federal levels, reversing the homelessness and affordable housing crisis will not be possible without continued leadership from the City.

The City budget funds important services we use every day. The City is challenged in meeting the complex needs of a growing population with insufficient funds. With a two percent cap on property taxes, the City is limited in their ability to adequately invest in the social infrastructure of our city.

By the time this article is published, the City budget will have been brought to Council for adoption on December 13. However, advocating for a City budget for all is an ongoing effort, particularly as we approach the 2018 municipal election.

For more information on Making Voices Count and advocacy on the City budget, including a kit for engaging City decision makers, visit www.makingvoicescount.ca.

This column is a collaboration between the Centretown Community Health Centre and Somerset West Community Health Centre (CHCs). They provide a full range of health and social services to individuals and families. Through leadership and support, they foster the active participation of individuals and groups in a common effort to build healthier communities.