Budgets are about priorities. Canada’s federal budget 2014 has failed to allocate a single new dollar for critical housing investments – despite the overwhelming national need and a growing chorus of experts pointing to the severe impact of the long-term erosion of existing federal housing investments.
- The latest federal budget repeats government commitments to tighten mortgage rules and make it harder for low and moderate-income households to get financing to purchase a home. The budget explains that these new rules are required to “increase market discipline in residential lending and reduce taxpayer exposure to the housing sector” (see page 86 of the federal budget plan).
But making it harder for Canadians to buy a home puts more pressure on the private rented and affordable/social housing sectors. The market rents charged by private landlords have outpaced the affordable rents that renter households can pay in most parts of the country in recent years, as the Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canada 2010 has noted.
The federal government remains committed to a rapidly increasing downward trend in housing funding that is causing a sharp reduction in affordable homes. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reports that its main national housing program will fall from $3.04 billion in 2010 to $1.68 billion by 2017. During that same period, the number of households assisted under federal funding will drop from 613,500 in 2010 to 492,500 in 2017.
Tightening access to private ownership markets will force more households into a private rented sector where rents are increasingly out of reach for low, moderate and even middle-income households. The ongoing federal policy of declining investments in existing affordable and social housing means that there will be fewer subsidized homes to meet a large national need.
There were 167,472 people on the Toronto affordable housing wait list as of December 2013. The Toronto wait list has set a new record every month since the recession of 2008, underlining the desperate shortage of affordable and social housing. There are no reliable national numbers on housing wait lists, but reports from local communities point to long lists in every part of the country.
In last year’s budget, the federal government announced three specific housing measures, including a five-year renewal of the national affordable housing initiative. The 2013 budget promised that the federal government would invest $253 million annually in housing initiatives, and that the provinces and territories would match this amount.
The 2014 budget repeats the announcement from a year earlier, but there is still no timeline on when the money will be allocated. Bilateral housing agreements are required between the federal and provincial / territorial governments but no agreements have been announced in the past year.
The response from leading housing policy groups has been strong.
“Municipalities were looking to today’s budget to see real measures to address the growing housing crisis facing Canada’s families, communities, and economy,” said Claude Dauphin, President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents thousands of local governments across the country. “Unfortunately, Budget 2014 fell short of that goal, failing to include any targets, timelines or a commitment to a long-term housing plan.”
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has launched a vigorous national initiative to re-engage the federal government in housing called “Fixing Canada’s Housing Crunch.”
The City of Toronto has a similar initiative called “Close the Housing Gap.”
“While we recognize the many fiscal priorities facing this government, we are disappointed that this budget was effectively silent on affordable housing, given so many Canadians remain in need, and given that having an affordable, safe home is so closely tied to having a more productive, stable life,” said Canadian Housing and Renewal Association President Phil Brown.
The Quebec-based housing group Front d’action populaire en reamenagement urbain (FRAPRU) has said that the 2014 budget has “downright abandoned” affordable and social housing.
About one-quarter (3.3 million) of all Canadian households are precariously housed, living in housing that is unaffordable, over-crowded, below standard, or a combination of all three, according to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey. At least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually, and as many as 1.3 million have experienced homelessness over the past five years, according to the 2013 report The State of Homelessness in Canada.
Research from the Wellesley Institute demonstrates the strong links between housing and health and there is a growing body of evidence from the local, national and international levels that sets out the links.