I’ll be at the IPAC-PPM Cities and Public Policy conference next week in Toronto, reporting on some of the things I’ve learned about the impact of federal government policies on Winnipeg. My overall theme will be that slow-growth cities have policy problems that are very different from those of cities that are growing rapidly, and that these differences are not being given the attention they deserve.
Rapid growth generally pushes up the price of housing and multiplies the numbers of homeless people living on the street. Slow growth often depresses the price of housing and produces decayed housing, because the value of houses is not high enough to produce the necessary incentive for home renovations. People are less likely to be living on the street and more likely to be living in unsafe or inadequate housing. Two entirely different problems, and clearly different solutions are indicated.
The federal government’s National Homelessness Initiative was a response to an incident in the late 1990s, in which a homeless man froze to death on the streets of Toronto. The federal government resolved to mount a program, but having vacated the housing field some years earlier, it was determined not to get back into providing funding for housing.
The result was SCPI, the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative, which, over a period of three years – our study ended in 2006 – made $23.5 million available in Winnipeg for funding such things as emergency shelters and services to street people. Winnipeg service providers argued that Winnipeg, like most slow-growth cities, had relatively small numbers of people living on the streets, but large numbers of people living in precarious housing.
They pleaded with the government to make some of its funding available for home renovation programs, and for the development of low-cost housing, but to no avail. Their only recourse was to invent programs that met federal government funding conditions, programs that they knew were not the best way to spend $23.5 million dollars.
As a result, Winnipeg service providers were forced to develop programs that might have been money well spent in Vancouver or Toronto, but that were less than optimum for Winnipeg.
For full details on this case, take a look at:
Christopher Leo and Martine August. National Policy and Community Initiative: Mismanaging Homelessness in a Slow-Growth City. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 15 (1) (supplement) 2006, pp. 1-21. To view a draft of the paper, click here.