OTTAWA -- Women who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, should be the first to get new federal-provincial housing support money, city staff recommend.

In a report prepared for the Community and Protective Services Committee, Staff say the new Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB) will provide $4.4-million over two years, starting in April. The jointly-funded program is meant to provide an income-tested, portable housing benefit to people on or eligible for the social housing waitlist, and to families in financial need who live in community housing.

The goal is to help people afford a rental unit of their choice, giving them more flexibility to live closer to work, school, or their support networks. The money would be tied to the recipient, and not to the home, so they would be able to move anywhere in Ontario and maintain the benefit.

The program prioritizes survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking, the homeless or the near-homeless, Indigenous people, senior citizens, and people with disabilities, but can be made available to others, if the funds allow.

$1.9-million will be available in 2020-21, while $2.45-million will be available in 2021-22.

Since the funding is limited, Staff suggest priority be given to single women or single mothers in the first year. The City report suggests $1.6-million be given to homeless women or women at risk of becoming homeless, while $200,000 be given to survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking.

According to the City, there were 12,577 households on the social housing waitlist as of Dec. 31, 2019. Female-led households make up 56 per cent of all households on the wait list.

More than $580,000 worth of funding in the second year would go to households at risk of homelessness because of the expiry of some City-run housing benefit programs and another $70,000 will be given to more survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking. The remainder of the funding would be used to continue to support families who benefited from the COHB in the first year.

According to City Staff, the money will be delivered directly from the Province to the benefit recipients. The City will be responsible for selecting eligible recipients, helping them with their applications, and submitting those applications to the Province for approval. The City will also pay first- and last-month's rent, where required, which will be reimbursed by the Province quarterly.

Five per cent of the total funding will be given to the City as administrative payments, amounting to about $130,000 over two years.

The City expects as many as 235 families will benefit from this new program.

Last month, the City passed a symbolic motion declaring housing and homelessness a crisis and an emergency in Ottawa.

The Community and Protective Services Committee meets on Feb. 20. If approved, the plan would still need to be voted on by full City Council, which meets on Feb. 26.