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.

Federal budget brings opportunities for social housing in Manitoba

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: Herb Neufeld/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Budget 2016 provides some welcome news for nearly 600,000 Canadian families who depend on social housing. The budget allocates $2.3 billion over two years for housing initiatives. While this announcement falls short of the amount housing activists have said is needed, and lacks many important clarifying details, it will provide relief for up to 100,000 families experiencing homelessness or at risk from unaffordable housing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can be accused of overusing his government's catch phrase "Canada is back." In terms of housing, however, there is hope that with Budget 2016: Growing the Middle Class, the slogan is justified. After building 600,000 units of social housing during the 1960s to 1980s, Canada withdrew from the housing sector under the Mulroney and Chretien governments. Since 1993, support for social housing has been sporadic and trickling. Budget 2016 doubles spending for the Investment in Affordable Housing for two years, providing an opportunity for renewal for the sector.

The Investment in Affordable Housing fund supports the construction of new social and affordable housing. In Manitoba, the province has built 2000 units of social housing since 2009 with only scant help from the federal government. Doubling the housing fund will allow Manitoba to continue building new housing, perhaps at an even higher rate than the 300 units per year it is currently building. This will reduce the often-long wait times for families hoping to get into rent-geared-to-income and affordable housing.

Much of Canada's social housing stock is in need of repair. Many non-profits and housing cooperatives have inherited an aging stock of housing, with structural issues that require substantial refinancing. These same housing projects are scheduled to lose federal support just as repairs are needed.

The problem stems from operating agreements which were created between non-profit and co-op housing providers and the federal government during the heyday of social housing development in the 1960s through 1980s. These funding agreements were generally tied to the length of the mortgage for the project. As mortgages are retired, the need subsidy remains, especially as many projects require refinancing for repairs.

Most operating agreements have due dates between 2010 and 2040. One local example involves a non-profit development in Winnipeg. It consists of 72 townhouses built in the 1980s. The majority of the units are affordable housing for moderate-income families. A little over a dozen have deeper subsidies to provide rent-geared-to-income support for families with low incomes.

Their agreement is set to expire in 2019, just as repairs to the roof, basement and sidewalks are needed. The non-profit plans to refinance, but without federal subsidies, a new loan would mean either raising rents for all the affordable housing units, or eliminating the deep subsidies for the poorest residents. Neither option is appealing. "It's a chicken and egg problem," a board member explains. "Raising the rents will leave some tenants paying more for less." However, getting rid of the deeper subsidy suites would affect the families that need help the most.

Budget 2016 could give some hope. There is a small fund of $30 million over two years to help non-profits maintain subsidies in situations like this.  It is not enough, and it is not a long-term strategy. Ultimately, a national housing strategy is needed.  Budget 2016 also announced that consultations would begin for a housing strategy, but it is late in the game, and many housing projects need support immediately.

Also potentially easing the burden for social housing projects, the budget calls for an immediate injection of $500 million in energy and water retrofits for social housing. In Manitoba, if current policies are maintained, there could be added economic value from the retrofit program. Social enterprises like BUILD, Brandon Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP) and Manitoba Green Retrofit provide training and jobs for Indigenous and inner-city workers who have struggled to get a foothold into the labour market.

Contracts from Manitoba Housing have provided their most stable revenue. If funding continues to provide preference to these enterprises, it could provide triple bottom line opportunities with widespread social, environmental and economic benefits.

While federal involvement for renewal of social housing is welcome, the federal budget points to the need for willing partners at the provincial level, especially since housing delivery remains a provincial responsibility. The federal government has been pragmatic in giving priority to "shovel-ready" projects that can get off the ground quickly. Those provinces that are willing to play along will get first attention. Manitoba political parties announcing their housing platforms ahead of the April 19 election should take care to develop policies that are in sync with federal funding opportunities. This will ensure Manitoba gets its share of social housing infrastructure.

Photo: Herb Neufeld/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. 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.


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:


  • 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.


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