No National Housing Strategy for Canada

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A few days ago  I read a blog post on the ALIV(e) (Awareness of Low Income Voices) blog. A woman was talking about how hard it was to afford a two bedroom apartment for her and her daughter with a disability, and how they needed to move into a one bedroom to be able to afford the rent when only receiving ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) payments (read the full post here). She wrote about how without the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB)—which has been cut from social assistance this year—she would not have been able to afford first and last month’s rent on the smaller apartment, and would have ended up homeless or in a shelter due to rising rent costs on her two bedroom. She would not have been able to downsize to save money to support her and her daughter. Had she been in this same situation this year instead of last, she would be in the shelter system, which costs the province and region far more money, and is far less healthy for those involved.

This woman’s situation is, unfortunately, not unique. Many people in Waterloo Region, and indeed across Canada, who are on social assistance cannot afford rising rent costs on a stagnating monthly rate. Many will need to take apartments in ill-repair, which may have mold or utilities that do not work. Others will end up homeless living on the street or in shelters, or become what we call the invisible homeless, living with friends or family but not really having a place of their own.

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For these reasons, I was excited to see that NDP MP Marie-Claude Morin introduced Bill C-400: An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians in parliament. The bill called for the government to consult groups involved in housing, including provinces, municipalities, and aboriginal groups, and report back to parliament with a report on a national housing strategy. As Guelph MP Frank Valeriote points out in this speech, Canada is the only G8 country without at national housing strategy. As a country, we need to have a plan to house everyone in safe accommodations that fit the size of the family. Many studies, including this one from the Wellesley Institute, show that this will lead to improved health conditions for Canadians.

Though Bill C-400 passed the first reading in parliament, on Wednesday, February 27th it was voted down to be read a second time. Though every MP from the Bloc, NDP, and Liberals voted for the bill, every Conservative MP voted against it. It should be noted that with private members bills, MPs are free to vote how they choose and are not legally obligated to follow party lines. Click here to see the full breakdown of votes.

So, why do we need a national housing strategy? From an economic point of view, it is far more efficient to house people than to force people to live in shelters, on the street, or in sub-standard housing. According to this infographic by Citizens for Public Justice, the cost of a shelter bed per month in Toronto is $1,900, while the average cost of monthly social housing is a mere $199. In Vancouver, the annual cost of someone on the street on the health, justice, and social service sectors is $40,000, while the yearly cost for housing is almost half that at $28,000. In Toronto alone there are 87,638 households waiting for affordable housing. According to this article, the wait time for affordable housing in Waterloo Region varies from less than one year to more than six years, depending on the size and needs of the family applying. That’s a lot of people who are probably facing food insecurity due to high rent costs, and therefore increasing their chances of developing a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease. I believe there is an ethical argument to be made here too; if we have the ability to house people and provide the necessary supports to live a fulfilling and healthy life, do we not have the obligation to do so?

At the House of Friendship, we believe shelter is an essential service. We’ve got many residential programs, from the Charles Street Men’s Hostel, to supportive housing like Charles and Eby Village. That said, we are only one organization and there is still huge demand in Waterloo Region, and throughout Canada. Without support from all levels of government, the demand will continue to outstrip the supply of affordable housing, leaving Canadians out in the cold.

I am hopeful that a similar bill, calling for a national housing strategy, will be reintroduced and passed someday. I am disappointed that our local Conservative MPs, Peter Braid and Stephen Woodworth, voted against the bill, even as precarious housing situations are growing in Kitchener-Waterloo, and even though they could have voted according to their values and not along party lines. If you feel the same way, click on their names above and write to them through their website.

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