The 2012 federal budget, released on Thursday, confirms the ongoing erosion of federal funding for affordable housing. Not only is there no new money on offer, but the budget sets out a total of $131 million in cuts to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the federal government’s national housing agency, over the next three years – followed by an annual cut of $102.2 million in subsequent years. The latest budgetary cuts come on top of housing cuts announced in the federal spending estimates for last year and this year.
Housing is one of the most important determinants of health for individuals and the entire population, as noted in the Wellesley Institute’s Precarious Housing in Canada 2010. More than 1.5 million households are in core housing need (the federal government’s definition of the most poorly housed Canadians). That’s approximately one in every eight households. About 3 million Canadian households are precariously housed – about one-in-four of all households.
The overall trend for the past two decades has been a rapid downward erosion of federal housing investments, as the federal government stopped funding new affordable homes in 1993 and then announced plans in 1996 to download most federal housing programs to the provinces and territories. The federal government did make short-term housing investments in 2001, 2005 and 2009. Those investments helped to build much-needed new affordable homes, and to repair existing substandard housing, but the federal government terminated most of that spending last year. The federal homelessness program, along with a couple of other smaller housing investments, are scheduled to be terminated in 2014.
None of those recent short-term investments have replaced the amount of funding that was lost with the cancellation of federal housing funding in the 1990s. In addition, inflation, population growth and a growth in the number of Canadians in core housing need all point to an urgent need for increased investment in new affordable homes. The federal government estimates that about one million Canadian households are living in substandard housing, yet the federal government’s low-income housing repair program has been terminated in the past year.