Thursday’s federal budget includes three specific measures on housing and homelessness: A renewal of the national homelessness strategy and the affordable housing initiative, and a new housing fund for Nunavut in Canada’s north.
First, a five-year commitment to the national homelessness strategy that was due to expire in 2014. Funding is $119 million annually, which is less than the 2012 estimates, which put annual spending at $127 million. This may mean a squeeze in funding for some of the 61 communities that currently receive homelessness funding and therefore a reduction in the transitional housing or services that are available. However, there may be other spending reductions that are targeted (in research, administration, etc.).
The budget includes a re-focus on “housing first” to end homelessness. The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s At Home / Chez Soi pilot in five Canadian cities has been a brilliant success and proved the value of “housing first” for people who experience chronic homelessness, for communities and for government.
Housing experts and advocates had been calling for a minimum ten-year commitment – based on the successful pilot. And they had been calling for a ramp up in funding – again based on demonstrated success. What the federal budget delivered is a five-year window at slightly reduced funding.
The renewal of funding for five years is welcome news – the squeeze on available funding will reduce the amount of transitional housing and services that can be delivered across the country.
Second, a five-year commitment to the Affordable Housing Initiative at $253 million annually. This program is cost-shared with other orders of government, and with the non-governmental groups that sponsor affordable housing projects, so potentially this could add up to $750 million or more annually.
This is welcome news as the AHI was scheduled to be “terminated” in 2014. The overall figure is less than half of what experts and advocates estimate is required to deal with Canada’s huge affordable housing deficit. There are more than 1.5 million Canadian households in “core housing need” – the federal government’s definition of households that are precariously housed.
Third, $100 million over two years for affordable housing in Nunavut. Very welcome news. Nunavut experiences both severe housing shortages and also among the highest costs in Canada for construction of new housing.
What’s missing from the budget: People living in existing affordable housing, municipalities, provinces and territories and housing experts were looking for a signal in this federal budget about the accelerating cuts to federal funding for existing social housing. This has been flagged as a single biggest financial issue on the housing horizon by the Ontario auditor general and numerous municipal reports.
According to CMHC’s latest corporate plan, the feds spent about $3 billion on Housing Program Expenses in 2010. This spending was down by one billion dollars to $2 billion in 2013 and will be down to $1.7 billion by 2016. The reductions are due to two factors: The “scheduled termination” of short-term federal housing funding – including the 2009 federal stimulus dollars – and the ongoing “step-out” of federal social housing agreements.
The ongoing reduction in federal social housing funding means, on a practical level, an ongoing reduction in the number of subsidized homes that are available to Canadians. According to CMHC, there were 623,700 households in 2008 assisted through federal affordable housing expenses. CMHC projects that, with the ongoing reductions, the number of federally assisted households will be at 525,000 by 2016 – a reduction of 98,700 subsidized homes, or a drop of 16%. This comes at a time when the key indicators (including social housing waiting lists and core housing need) show that the need for affordable housing is on the rise across Canada.
There is no indication that the federal government is planning to slow or reverse the long-term plan to sharply reduce federal investments in affordable and social housing.