The Government of Ontario announced the latest steps in its plan to invest in rural communities and municipalities at the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, with measures that will help to strengthen rural economies, get more homes and housing-enabling infrastructure built and increase access to important local services in rural areas.

“Unlike previous governments, our government will never ignore the needs of rural Ontario,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with our municipal partners to attract new investments and jobs, provide better services closer to home and build the homes and infrastructure rural communities need to grow and prosper.”

Ford announced new details regarding the expansion of Ontario’s $1.2 billion Building Faster Fund (BFF) to small, rural and northern municipalities that have not been assigned housing targets by the province. Ten per cent – or $120 million – of the BFF will be reserved for these municipalities to help them build housing-enabling infrastructure, with the province intending to distribute these funds through an application-based process that will prioritize projects that can get shovels in the ground faster. The province will continue to consult closely with rural municipalities to ensure this process effectively reflects their unique needs.

“A strong Rural Ontario is key to the province’s prosperity. Over the last few years, ROMA has delved deep into challenges like digital connectivity, affordable housing and access to healthcare in Rural Ontario. We have made dozens of research-based recommendations to unlock Rural Ontario’s untapped potential. ROMA’s 2024 Report, Fill the Gaps Closer to Home is a comprehensive study into the unique and distinct challenges to accessing health care in Rural Ontario. We thank the Ontario Government for participating in the ROMA conference, and look forward to working together to fill the gaps in Rural Ontario,” said Mayor Robin Jones, Village of Westport, Chair ROMA.

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In the coming months, the province will also begin to roll out BFF funding for municipalities that have met or exceeded their assigned housing targets. Ford announced that the province intends to direct any unspent BFF funds leftover from municipalities that have not met their housing targets into additional housing-enabling infrastructure investments that can be applied for by all municipalities, including those that have already received funding through the BFF. This will ensure all municipalities continue to receive the support they need to get homes built while also continuing to reward and incentivize municipalities that meet or exceed their housing targets.

“Our government is committed to do what it takes to build more homes as quickly as possible across this province,” said Paul Calandra, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Our goal is simple: To build more homes than we ever have before. We owe that to hardworking Ontarians, including the thousands of people who came here to make their dreams of home ownership a reality. We will continue to work closely with our small, rural and northern municipal partners to make sure that no part of Ontario is left behind.”

Kinga Surma, Minister of Infrastructure, announced that municipalities will be able to apply for funding beginning January 29, 2024 through the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund to support municipal water projects that will help unlock housing opportunities and further protect communities. Through this program, the government is providing $200 million over three years to help municipalities repair, rehabilitate and expand critical drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

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“We have taken action to support municipalities through the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund. Programs such as this are proof that our government is making targeted investments to build critical infrastructure in communities which will unlock housing and support our growing population,” said Surma. “We will continue to build a stronger and more prosperous Ontario now and for generations to come.”

Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced the start of consultations to help develop a new Rural Economic Development Strategy. Rural municipalities and the public will have an opportunity to share ideas about how Ontario can improve economic opportunities, create jobs and support growth in rural and Indigenous communities across the province.

Thompson also announced the opening of the 2024/25 Rural Economic Development (RED) Program applications. Municipalities, Indigenous communities and not-for-profit groups have until February 21, 2024 to apply for cost-share funding for projects that will drive economic growth.

“Our rural communities are the heart of this province and crucial to Ontario’s success. By supporting economic development across the province through initiatives like the RED program as well as a thoughtful strategy, we can create new opportunities and ensure small towns and Indigenous communities prosper,” said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Featured image: Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, Jan. 22, 2023. (Government of Ontario)

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