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‘There’s no reason why all people living in Canada cannot have the dignity and security of a place to call home.’ Last month, the CEO of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation made the surprise announcement that the board of directors had set a new corporate objective: By 2030, every person living in Canada will have access to safe and affordable housing that meets his or her needs. Clearly, this is a laudable goal, and one that will require significant planning and forethought on the part of all governments and key partners across Canada.

The challenges of meeting this goal are formidable. More than 235,000 Canadians will be homeless at one point this year. Over 40 per cent of renters are considered in core-housing need — defined as spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent — and more than 18 per cent of renters are in deep core-housing need, since they spend over 50 per cent of their income on rent.

In the meantime, wait lists for social and affordable housing continue to grow. Over the past five years, they’ve increased by 11 per cent in Toronto, 22 per cent in Vancouver, and 16 per cent in Calgary. So clearly, the obstacles to meeting CMHC’s new objective are considerable.

The good news is that work on meeting this challenge has begun.

In November 2017, the federal government unveiled a 10-year, $40-billion National Housing Strategy that introduced new programs designed to increase the stock of affordable housing in Canada, and will shortly enshrine the progressive right to housing in legislation.

The strategy was long overdue, and should set Canada on a path to increasing affordable housing capacity for Canadians. However, to meet CMHC’s ambitious target, more needs to be done. Provinces, territories, Indigenous governments, housing providers, and the private sector will each have a role to play. But both the current and next federal government can take additional steps to provide housing for all people living in Canada. Some of these steps include: Implement additional tools to increase affordable housing supply. The most logical means to realize CMHC’s goal is to increase the supply and stock of affordable housing, which will require a new suite of tools to expand supply. To do this, we must expand the Federal Lands Initiative to allow the federal government to acquire and transfer surplus federal, provincial, municipal lands and buildings for affordable housing purposes. We must build on the $15-billion Co-investment Fund by simplifying access to capital, and implement new sources of low-cost loans and grants that allow housing providers to gain capital by leveraging their existing assets. We can expand the mandate of the Canada Infrastructure Bank to include affordable housing developments.

Enhance supports. Affordable housing is more than bricks and mortar. It requires subsidies to maintain affordability, and requires social supports to provide tenants with the services they need. To meet CMHC’s target, we need to ensure that the 10-year extension of “Rent Geared to Income” subsidies announced in the National Housing Strategy are made permanent, and we need greater federal investment and accountability measures linked to the Canada Social Transfer, so that tenants in social housing will have access to the services they require.

Introduce an urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing strategy. There’s no question that the state and supply of housing for Canada’s Indigenous peoples is below that of the non-Indigenous population. The federal government is working with Indigenous organizations to develop three distinctions-based Indigenous strategies for Canada’s Métis, Inuit, and First Nations people. Although welcome, an additional strategy must be put in place to address the unique […]

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