In honor of National Housing Day on Wednesday, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government announced their new $40 billion National Housing Strategy. The sweeping plan would ultimately increase affordable housing, reduce housing shortages, repair old affordable housing units and reduce homelessness by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.
“[This is a] new, innovative plan that re-establishes the role the federal government must play in housing,” Trudeau told a crowd in Toronto, “Housing rights are human rights, everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home.”
Some of the most notable features of the strategy are the building of 100,000 new affordable housing units, repairs on 300,000 units and providing 300,000 families with assistance through the Canadian Housing Benefit. The plan is also based on gender-conscious research and focuses on households run by single mothers, women fleeing domestic abuse and senior women. It also provides help where help is needed: low income areas, areas with high Indigenous populations and northern Canada.
A key feature of the plan is the new Canada Housing Benefit. It commits $4 billion to providing an average rent subsidy of $2,500 annually to families in need starting in 2020 and ending in 2028. The cost of this benefit will be split evenly between federal and provincial governments–something that could become a point of contention between the two.
The plan is pretty incredible in theory. That’s a lot of money to put toward making housing a basic human right. Where is it all coming from, though? While a lot of the plan was already worked into the 2017 budget (and already public information), the Canadian Housing Benefit is not. It not only pledges an unaccounted-for $4 billion over eight years, it also requires half of that to be provided by already cash-strapped provinces and territories.
It’s also a little bit sneaky. The next federal election is in 2019, a year before the benefit is supposed to kick in. That means that the Liberals would need to win the next election to even see the beginning of the plan and the next two to see it through. If they don’t, then this whole thing becomes a Conservative or NDP problem. Nice.
Advocacy groups are happy with the federal commitment and the publicity it gives the issues of affordable housing and homelessness. Jeff Morrison of the Canada Housing and Renewal Agency told CTV that he is “keen” to work with the government on the plan and calls it “the next generation of social housing policies in Canada.”
As for the lengthy timeline, he’s willing to give the government a pass on that as long as they’re making sure they’re doing it right.
“Clearly there’s a need to get this money out the door as quick as possible,” he said, “but you know, we’ll give them a bit of a break and say let’s give them the time to make sure these programs get done right and not done quickly.”
Aside from provincial criticisms, the Liberals are facing backlash from the other federal parties. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said that the plan sounds good, but he’d rather see some action.
“There are 1.7 million Canadians that don’t have access to adequate housing. We can’t wait for funding. We need it now,” he said, “We see the government make an announcement at a time when we need bold action. What we’re basically seeing is a timid plan.” He did not appreciate that it wouldn’t start until after the 2019 election and felt that it didn’t reflect “the seriousness of this crisis.”
Conservatives were also unhappy, arguing that housing problems are not something that the federal government can adequately address. MP Candace Bergen, who was former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s housing minister, wanted to see a more regionally specific plan.
“Different regions of the country have different challenges, different municipalities. There are different challenges facing the country,” she said. She added that provinces and municipalities know better how to address those challenges.
“I think certainly funding and letting provinces make decisions is a really important part of it,” she said, “Municipalities and cities have a huge impact on the type of housing and what’s available.” She also stressed that reducing homelessness was dependent on addressing the mental health and addiction issues that are prevalent in the community.