After more than a year of consultations with everyday Canadians, experts, stakeholders, think tanks and provinces and municipalities, the federal government recently unveiled Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy.
Billed as the tool that will help reduce homelessness and improve the availability and quality of housing for Canadians in need, the 10-year, $40-billion plan aims to:
- Reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent
- Remove more than 530,000 households from housing need
- Create four times as many new housing units as built under federal programs from 2005 to 2015
- Repair three times as many existing housing units as repaired under federal programs from 2005 to 2015, and
- Protect an additional 385,000 households from losing an affordable place to live.
- “Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in announcing the Strategy.
Investment under the plan includes:
- $15.9 billion for a new National Housing Co-Investment Fund
- $8.6 billion for a new Canada Community Housing Initiative in partnership with provinces and territories, and $500 million through a new Federal Community Housing Initiative
- $4 billion for a new Canada Housing Benefit launching in 2020 in partnership with provinces and territories, and
- $2.2 billion to reduce homelessness
“The National Housing Strategy will create a new generation of housing in Canada,” says Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “It will promote diverse communities and will build housing that is sustainable, accessible, mixed-income and mixed-use that will be located near transit, work and public services.”
Though details on some of the inclusions are still to come, the home building industry is generally positive about the Strategy.
“With regards to the Canada Housing Benefit, CHBA has long recommended such a measure to help low-income Canadians participate in the wider housing market,” says Kevin Lee, chief executive officer of CHBA. “The vast majority of Canadians in core housing need have an income problem, not a housing problem. This Benefit can provide them support and choice, rather than tying them to specific housing units.”
CHBA had also recommended the introduction of a “portable” housing benefit that would support low-income individuals directly, rather than subsidize buildings. Data released by Statistics Canada recently confirms that more than 836,000 households need income support based on their rent-to-income ratio. This means that more than three-quarters of households designated as in “housing need” live in adequate housing, but can’t afford it.
CHBA says it was also pleased to see the federal government commit to a new public engagement campaign to encourage inclusive communities. A national “NIMBY to YIMBY” campaign (Not-In-My-Back-Yard to Yes-In-My-Back-Yard) has also been a CHBA recommendation to support the development of complete mixed-use, mixed-income communities. Inclusive communities can promote inclusiveness and greater housing affordability, as well as fairer treatment of newcomers to housing.
One area where the Strategy comes up short is the issues of housing supply and affordability.
“While the Strategy acknowledges the social value of home ownership, and the key role of market housing in meeting the housing needs of Canadians, it does not address issues of supply and affordability,” according to the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD). These issues are top of mind with Canadians, especially younger families and those working hard to achieve a middle-class life.
BILD has maintained that a complete National Housing Strategy must address the full “housing continuum” – from social housing and housing assistance measures, to market rental and ownership housing. “Otherwise, deteriorating affordability will simply increase demand for social housing and other types of assistance.”
Real estate expert, author and educator Don Campbell says that while the Strategy sounds promising initially, the proof will be in future legislation.
“As with many of the recent provincial and federal government announcements, the reality, versus the marketing, will be hidden in the legislation,” he told NextHome. “The ideas and policies, although based in problem solving, aren’t often implemented towards the stated goal. It is difficult to see how much more ‘affordable’ rent will become, even with the proposed $200 federal rental subsidy, if policies, like those (recently) legislated in Ontario and being discussed in BC, reduce supply right as demographic demand is increasing.
“We should all be prepared for a flurry of announcements and headlines over the coming months as more details are brought to the forefront,” Campbell adds. “But, once again, the true story will come out in the piece of legislation.”