The new UK government of Gordon Brown announced on Monday that it will invest £8 billion (that’s more than $17 billion in Canadian dollars) over the next three years for new affordable homes. That’s a 50% increase over current housing spending and will fund about 70,000 new homes annually when the programme is fully rolled out in 2010/11 (including 45,000 social housing units). It’s a wide-ranging and ambitious program that touches on every aspect of housing from home ownership to rental – and is a direct response to growing concerns in UK about the rising cost of housing. Even the private sector will be recruited into the new initiative – with more than 20 private developers climbing on board.
The opposition Conservative Party support the plan for more housing (“We need to build more homes,” said Conservative shadow housing minister Grant Shapps on the day the Labour government made its announcement), but the Tories are concerned about the location of the homes.
While there is support across the political spectrum in Britain for a comprehensive new housing initiative, in Canada the situation is slightly more confusing. The governing Conservatives renewed a federal homelessness program for two years (but froze the dollars at 1999 levels), and they allocated a two-year federal housing trust fund (which the Conservatives voted against when it was authorized by Parliament in 2005). The Liberals, in opposition, are as keen as always to support new housing investment, but their record during 12 years in government was housing cuts and downloading and failed promises.
Canada’s population is slightly more than half the population of the UK so, on a per capita basis, the federal government would have to add about $3.3 billion annually to housing spending to match the UK record. Instead of doing that, the Canadian government is presiding over a national housing program that has annual, locked-in funding cuts – every year, a growing amount of money is being lost from national housing investments.