The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), representing 90 percent of Canada’s municipal population, is calling for $12.7 billion over eight years to protect existing affordable housing, prevent homelessness, build new units and provide portable rental assistance to those who can’t find affordable housing.
“We know that safe and affordable housing is the bedrock of communities where people want to live, raise their families and start businesses,” said Clark Somerville, federation president. “Instead, we’re facing a housing crisis, and we need to fix this now.”
The seeds of the current crisis were planted 20 years ago.
From 1964 to 1994, the Canadian government strategically granted long-term operating subsidies to support low- to moderate-income housing. As a result, Canada’s subsidized low- to moderate-income housing units went from 12,000 in 1964 to 600,000 by 1994, representing 6 percent of all housing stock.
But a conservative federal government stopped granting those subsidies in 1993. At the time, the Canadian government had long-term commitments in place that amounted to $1.9 billion in operating subsidies per year, but without the promise of new long-term operating subsidies, new affordable housing construction nearly came to a standstill, according to an earlier FCM report.
Meanwhile, Canada’s existing operating agreements with private owners of affordable housing (many of them nonprofit organizations) were slated to phase out in large volumes starting in 2014.
From the FCM report:
The expiry of federal operating agreements presents critical risks to Canada’s diverse social housing providers.
Regina’s Silver Sage Housing Corporation, a non-profit social housing provider, has served Indigenous households for years on a rent-geared-to-income basis. As federal operating agreements expire, Silver Sage must increase rents just to keep doors open.
The Prince George Metis Housing Society has also raised rents, acknowledging that this will force some households to move potentially into substandard market rentals while boosting the demand for affordable housing in a region where social housing waitlists have ballooned to as many as 4,000 households.
Toronto’s Mainstay Housing faces the loss of operating funding for 37 of its 41 properties. These properties provide more than 800 homes for singles, couples, and families with children where the primary tenants are living with serious mental illness and were homeless at entry; in many cases living with physical disabilities, addiction challenges or physical health issues.
One out of five renters in Canada now spend more than half their pre-tax salary on housing, according to FCM. That’s nearly on par with the U.S., where 26 percent of households are in the same situation. The Canadian government has been conducting a national conversation to shape its housing policy, conducting focus groups, holding expert panel discussions and taking comments online. Today is the deadline to submit comments.
Oscar is a Next City contributing writer, and was a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist with a background in global development and social enterprise, he has written about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and NextBillion.net. He has a B.A. in Economics from Villanova University.