News flash: Feds extend housing / homeless investments but freeze dollars

Just three days before it triggered an election, the federal government quietly approved a five-year extension of Canada’s national housing and homelessness programs that were due to expire. But it has frozen the dollars despite growing need, according to a backgrounder from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on Friday.

“On September 4, 2008, the Government of Canada decided to set aside funding for housing and homelessness programs at $387.9 million per year for five years to March 31, 2014,” reported CMHC, the federal government’s housing agency, on September 19.

There is no breakdown on the funding. But the overall dollars haven’t budged much since the original programs were announced almost a decade ago, despite growing national need and growing inflation (that has cut into the value of the dollars). More details on federal housing and homelessness issues and the federal election are in a special section on the Wellesley Institute web site.

Two existing federal housing and homelessness programs are:
• Homelessness Partnering Initiative – previously funded at $135 million annually.
• Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program – previously funded at $128 million annually.

If those programs are renewed at the same level as before, that leaves just $125 million for a nation-wide affordable housing program. At $100,000 per unit (about two-thirds of the development cost in large urban areas, where housing needs are the biggest), that would fund only about 1,250 new homes for the entire country annually. The last big infusion of new federal affordable housing dollars came during 2005, although the one-time-only investment of $1.4 billion was not allocated until 2007.

Housing and homelessness advocates, municipal leaders and others have been calling for multi-year funding, and also for additional dollars to meet the growing need. The federal homelessness program funds transitional housing and services in 61 communities across Canada. The rest of the country is mostly excluded. The federal housing repair program helps lower-income homeowners and landlords maintain the quality of the nation’s aging housing stock. The affordable housing program supports the development of urgently-needed new homes.

A few housing and homelessness facts:
• One-in-four Canadian households pay 30% or more of their income on housing. Shelter is the biggest expense for low, moderate and middle-income households.
• In the early 1980s, more than 10 out of every 100 new homes in Canada were truly affordable. By 2007, less than one-in-one-hundred new homes were truly affordable.
• More than 300,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually; the number of shelter beds in Canada jumped by 22% in one year to 26,872 in 2007.
• Federal housing investments of $2 billion in 2008 are at their lowest level since 2002. On a per-capita basis, 2008 federal housing investments were at their lowest level in two decades.