Canada on the right track with national housing strategy, but we're not there yet

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As the housing sector in Canada knows, this past summer the federal government launched a consultation process on a National Housing Strategy. The launch of such a strategy was a key objective of CHRA before, during, and after the 2015 federal election, and marks a key opportunity to shape federal housing policies for possibly decades to come.

Following an intense summer and fall of national and regional level meetings and engagement opportunities, the consultation process culminated on November 22 with the release of the "What We Heard" report by the Minister responsible for housing, Jean-Yves Duclos.

The report summarized the ideas and the priorities identified by Canadians during the course of the consultation. Among those submissions was a comprehensive paper submitted by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA) in October entitled "Housing At A Crossroads: CHRA's Vision for the Next Generation of Housing Policy in Canada," which set forth 24 recommendations designed to strengthen access to housing, particularly for the most vulnerable people living in Canada.

Although the "What We Heard" report is not government policy, the fact that it identifies the key themes raised by Canadians makes this report a key stepping stone on the road to a National Housing Policy. Thus far, the social and affordable housing sector has cause for optimism. Among the key overarching themes that the report included were the following:

  • A National Housing Strategy must help those in greatest need, including for individuals and families with the most severe housing needs, including low-income Canadians, the homeless and victims fleeing violence.

  • Helping Indigenous peoples achieve better housing outcomes for themselves, and that a separate, but parallel strategy is needed to address the unique housing challenges facing Métis, Inuit and First Nations peoples living on and off reserve.

  • Eliminating homelessness. A fundamental goal of a National Housing Strategy should be to eliminate homelessness in Canada, and short of that, make it rare, brief and non-recurring.

  • Setting clear outcomes and targets. A national strategy must set clear outcomes and measurable targets in order to report back to Canadians on progress in achieving better housing.

  • Improving data collection, analysis and research. Canadians and housing experts stressed that more and better housing data is needed to understand housing conditions and the housing needs of Canadians, and in order to develop informed, cost-effective, policies, programs and initiatives.

These themes closely align with many of the ideas and recommendations that CHRA put forth in its submission in October.

However, it must be emphasized that the What We Heard report is not government policy. Based on a number of conversations with government officials, we anticipate that the next announcement on the National Housing Strategy will come in Budget 2017, which is typically delivered in February or March. We expect the budget will contain a high-level National Housing Policy framework, possible with funding envelopes attached.

Given the lack of detail in the budget, we furthermore expect that there will additional consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including provinces and territories, in order to "flesh out" those high-level announcements.

What this means is that the work of the social and affordable housing sector is far from done. Social housing providers and supporters have an opportunity between now and the unveiling of the 2017 budget to ensure that the housing needs of Canada's most vulnerable peoples are prioritized in the national strategy.

Early in 2017, CHRA will be promoting opportunities for housing advocates to convey that message to members of Parliament, but of course, CHRA encourages people to contact their MPs now to share with them their views. In the months following the budget, CHRA will work with CMHC and other relevant government agencies to provide opportunities for our members to be heard on specific policies related to the roll out of the National Strategy.

We're on the right track, but the job is not done yet -- let's continue to remind the federal government that prioritizing and investing in social housing and the housing needs of Canada's most vulnerable people is the right thing to do!

Jeff Morrison is Executive Director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

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