rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Why Canada needs a real housing policy

Photo:  wsquared photography & creative/flickr

Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Every developed country except Canada knows that safe, affordable housing is a critical key to social, physical and emotional well-being. The list of poor outcomes associated with poor and unaffordable housing is long, and gets longer with every study. Higher rates of poor health, especially connected to respiratory illnesses and stress-related illnesses, poor school attainment, higher rates of family violence all are directly related to poor housing. Unaffordable housing forces individuals and families to choose between food and shelter, not filling medical prescriptions, not being able to participate in normal community activities such as children's sports.

Canada's current government alone seems oblivious to the economic and social costs of not having a real housing policy. This election we expect all political parties to put housing at the top of their agenda and make the right to housing accessible to all Canadians.

A strong housing policy has three overlapping, but clearly separate components. Market housing, either in a house or an apartment, meets the need for those who can afford housing. Affordable housing has a level of public subsidy, but meets the needs of lower-income singles and families. It is often sponsored and supported by community groups, or takes the form of a co-op, where some tenants pay market rent, while other receive varying levels of subsidy, usually based on income. Public, rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing, provides for those who cannot afford any level of market housing.

Until the end of 1993, Canada did pretty well balancing these three legs of housing provision. We even won a United Nations commendation for our housing policies.
However, on December 31, 1993, the federal government ended all new social housing programs. No more co-ops or public RGI housing, and no federal support for any affordable housing. Like a slow-moving train wreck, our housing sector got more and more out of balance, as real shortages of affordable rental housing developed across the country. This growing imbalance in the rental market was made much worse by changes in the federal tax code which had a very costly impact on rental housing construction. By the end of the 1990s, only 5,000 rental units were built in the whole nation. Housing for our lowest-income citizens was aging, and some units were lost.

Making matters worse, thousands of apartment complexes were converted to condos, which were much more lucrative for builders. Older apartments fell off the market, because rents were too low to maintain the buildings, and age was taking its toll. In Winnipeg, we welcomed over 100,000 new citizens between 1992 and 2014, but had a net loss of 5,200 apartment units. Fewer units on the market meant higher rents, which escalated above the rate of inflation.

The loss of affordable market rental units, coupled with the increased costs of new rental construction meant that more and more families sought public RGI housing, or suffered the consequences of not having money for both food and rent. Food banks proliferated and continue to grow. While Canada and Manitoba tried to keep welcoming refugees, finding housing for newcomers became virtually impossible. Arriving First Nations people faced the same dilemma. They came to Winnipeg seeking a good life for their families, but often foundered in the face of poor and unaffordable housing.

It's time to begin to repair the damage, and the money is there to do so.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation used to break even at best. But over the past eight years, is has become ever more profitable. In 2014, profits were over $3.5 billion, all of which went straight to the federal government's bottom line. In fact CMHC has bragged that it has "contributed over $18 billion to improve the government's fiscal position." In spite of these record-breaking profits, research support for housing was cut by 50 per cent in 2013. We increasingly lack good data for housing planning.

Canada badly needs a government that will:

  • Take at least the majority of CMHC profits and re-invest them in new RGI and affordable housing, in partnership with provinces, territories, First Nations, cities and non-profit housing groups.
  • Maintain support for existing social housing projects that are rapidly losing their ability to keep rents low as their subsidy agreements expire.
  • Review and amend the federal tax provisions that inappropriately burden rental housing construction, allowing new, affordable rental units to once again meet the housing needs of many modest-income families and singles.
  • Renew and support research and data collection showing housing need and affordability across Canada so that provinces, territories, cities and non-profit groups can plan for the future with good data that is freely available.

This election, ask your candidates what they will do to make affordable, safe housing available to all our citizens, not only those who can buy a house or condo.

For more information, visit Right to Housing and look for their federal brief on housing.

Tim Sale is a CCPA­ Manitoba research associate, former provincial minister of housing, and chair of the federal working group for the Right to Housing coalition.

Photo: wsquared photography & creative/flickr

Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.