Canada lacks housing strategy

Posted on March 6, 2008 in Governance Debates, Social Security Debates – comment/editorial – Canada lacks housing strategy
March 05, 2008

Housing is one of the most basic needs. Yet federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s only acknowledgement of that in his budget speech last week was to say that Canadians “want healthy, safe communities.” His budget did nothing to help low- to middle-income families get and keep housing they can afford.

Monte Solberg, the federal minister responsible for housing, thinks so little about the file that he skipped out on a housing ministers’ meeting last month. His reason: he needs to count the number of social housing units in the country before he can talk to the provincial ministers about it. They could have told him there aren’t nearly enough and they’re deteriorating rapidly.

The lack of action on social housing was highlighted last week in Toronto when a 50-year-old homeless man froze to death in a downtown parking lot stairwell, his crutches beside him.

At their last federal-provincial meeting in 2005, the housing ministers issued principles for an affordable housing framework and agreed to work quickly on a strategy with goals, timetables and long-term funding. But, with the change of government since then in Ottawa, none of that has developed.

Indeed, the only current federal housing programs were brought in by the previous Liberal government and extended by the Conservatives. They are all set to expire a year from now. Housing activists had hoped at the very least that Flaherty would commit to extending those programs, which have provided $1.6 billion for affordable housing, assistance to landlords to upgrade aging social housing stock, and $135 million a year for services and transitional housing for the homeless.

But the only money in the budget was $110 million for five pilot projects across the country to study homeless people who are mentally ill. As Michael Shapcott, director of community engagement for the Wellesley Institute, points out: “Increasing knowledge is critically important, but so too is building affordable homes with the appropriate supports for people with mental health concerns.”

Affordable homes are equally important to the 1.5 million Canadian households that are spending more than 30 per cent of their pre-tax income on housing. The costs of homes and rents outpaced inflation every year from 1997 to 2005.

Some 170,000 Ontario households are stuck on waiting lists for social housing, including 3,650 households in Durham, where Flaherty’s own riding is situated.

Canada is the only major country in the world without a national housing strategy. Until the federal government commits to devising one with the provinces, living conditions for Canadians will continue to deteriorate and despair and hardship will grow.

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