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Is your candidate willing to spend $2.04 per person per week to solve the housing crisis?

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Spending more than 30 per cent of before tax household income on housing, municipal services, electricity, fuel and water, means there's little money left for basic expenditures like food, transportation, clothing, personal toiletries, laundry, and no money for perks like recreation. Almost 20 per cent of all Canadian households are spending 50 per cent or more of their before tax annual income on rent. For various reasons, over 235,000 Canadians find themselves homeless annually.

According to The Federation of Canadian Municipalities' 2012 report, "average incomes have not kept pace with continually rising housing costs. Between 2006 and 2009, average income for the combination of couple families, lone-parent families, and single persons in Quality of Life Reporting System (QOLRS) cities increased by 5.5 per cent, while the average cost of homeownership rose by 22 per cent.

A healthy housing price-to-income ratio is generally considered to be four to one; the most recent figures available for the QOLRS show this ratio as greater than seven to one by 2010. The average housing price-to-income ratio was 5.3 to one in 2014. However, extremes were experienced in specific cities like Vancouver where the ratio was 10 to one.

One third of Canadians live in rental housing. Those most in need of affordable rental units include female-led lone-parent families, older individuals, Aboriginal households, and recent newcomers to Canada. 

Social housing waitlists continue to grow, yet federal subsidies are set to end when current operating agreements expire. That will put an estimated 365,000 low-income households at risk of homelessness.

The federal government needs to be at the table with representatives from all provinces, territories and major municipalities in order to solve the national housing crisis. Instead, Harper's government has chosen to avoid taking responsibility by misleading the public into believing that housing is exclusively a provincial and territorial responsibility.

In February 2012, NDP MPs Marie-Claude Morin, Andrew Cash and Michael Shapcott introduced draft legislation that would have created a national housing plan for Canada. Bill C-400, An Act to Secure Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing for Canadians, urged the Harper government to consult with provincial ministers responsible for municipal affairs and housing as well as with representatives of municipalities, Aboriginal communities, non-profit and private sector housing providers and civil society organizations in order to create a national housing strategy.

On February 27, 2013 every Conservative member of the House of Commons voted to defeat Bill C-400. The good news, on October 19 Canadians can elect a government that will create and implement a meaningful national housing.

Bill C-400 appears to be the NDP's current strategy to addressing the national housing crisis. This plan involves all three levels of government. It encourages use of designs that implement Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEEDS) certification. Special attention will be given to individuals and families who have been homeless for an extended period of time; individuals and families with special housing requirements; persons at risk of discrimination; those currently or at risk of experiencing violence. 

Timelines as well as a means for independent review are presented. A process will be developed to review and follow-up on concerns or recommendations from the United Nations human rights bodies with respect to the right to adequate housing in Canada.

The Green Party's National Housing Strategy is very comprehensive. It includes a Housing First Approach to house chronically homeless people while providing immediate support. There's dedicated funding to the co-operative housing sector to enable more new affordable housing projects to proceed.

Funding will be extended for co-ops whose contracts with the federal government are set to expire. Retrofitting of all Canadian homes by 2030 will increase energy efficiency, cut heating and electricity bills, and reduce 80 per cent of building emissions by 2040. Harper's Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program will be eliminated. First Nations will have increased access to social housing on and off-reserve. A percentage of all newly built units will be reserved for affordable housing.

But, the Green Party pushes the housing agenda with the inclusion of a provision for a Guaranteed Livable Income. This would help low-income Canadians and youth afford a home of their own.

The Liberals have an Affordable National Housing Strategy composed of three resolutions. A national housing commission to work in conjunction with all levels of government and social housing and private sector housing providers to create a national housing action plan that would produce affordable, safe housing for Canadians at all income levels.

The Liberals would eliminate waitlists for affordable housing; reduce the cost of housing for middle and lower income earners; and stabilize the economy with job-creating investment in housing infrastructure. This national housing plan will provide sustainable and predictable tax measures to support the development of market rental housing while ensuring existing affordable housing and homelessness investments are permanent.

The Harper government's housing policy is disappointing to say the least. It relies solely on their Economic Action Plan 2013 which allocates nearly $600 million over five years starting April 2014 to renew and refocus the Homelessness Partnering Strategy using a Housing First (HF) approach. This is the same Housing First Approach the Green Party will implement as part of their very extensive national housing plan. The difference between the Green's and Conservatives? The Conservatives' housing strategy begins and ends with Housing First.

HF promotes giving individuals who are chronically homeless a place to live and then provides the supports necessary to help them recover from addiction and mental health issues. Concluding remarks of the HF authors suggested that it "should be one component of a multi-pronged and evidence-based approach to address the problem of homelessness in Canada." Harper's housing plan helps one segment of Canadian society that is definitely in need, but overall, it is extremely myopic. 

Harper has failed to design and implement a national housing strategy despite having a majority government. Instead, his government voted down a decent plan put forward by the NDP in Bill C-400. Worse yet, Harper is set to cut housing funding to several programs that will leave more than one housing safety net torn to tatters. 

York University's Homeless Hub estimates an investment of $44 billion, or $2.04 per person per week, over the next decade would not only end homelessness in Canada, but make more affordable housing available to more Canadians. Ask your federal candidate if they're willing to commit your weekly share towards solving Canada's national housing crisis.

Image: Flickr/woodleywonderworks

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