National housing strategy a 'down payment' on affordable housing, homelessness crisis, Manitoba agencies say

The federal government's proposed $40-billion national housing strategy is a good step but just a "down payment" on the investment required to deal with the issue, says a report from two Winnipeg agencies.

Manitoba needs to reverse recent budget cuts to its housing capital program, report says

The federal government's national housing strategy promises to cut chronic homelessness in Canada by 50 per cent. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The federal government's proposed $40-billion national housing strategy is a good step but just a "down payment" on the investment required, says a report from two Winnipeg agencies.

"As we celebrate these steps, we would be naive to think that this investment is sufficient to fully repair our badly damaged housing infrastructure," the report from the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg and the Right to Housing Coalition says.

The federal government stepped out of housing decades ago, leaving it all to provincial and territorial governments, and the result has been "a patchwork approach with very mixed results," said Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council.

The report, titled Finally, A National Housing Strategy: Now Let's Work Together, examines what the new strategy offers and how Manitoba can best capitalize on the plan.

"We want to urge the provincial government to match the resources on offer in order to fulfil what should be every Canadian resident's right to safe and affordable housing," said report author Josh Brandon.

The federal government's national housing strategy calls for 100,000 new affordable housing units to be built, and 300,000 affordable housing units to be repaired. (The Associated Press)

The Liberal government's national housing strategy was first unveiled in November and will be part of the budget on March 12.

The 10-year, $40-billion strategy promises everything from tackling homelessness and the shortage of new housing units to enshrining the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right in Canadian law.

The list of promises includes:

  • Construction of 100,000 new affordable housing units.
  • Repairs on 300,000 affordable housing units.
  • Cutting chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.
  • Protecting 385,000 households from losing an affordable home.
  • Removing 530,000 households from housing need.

It also includes the introduction of a housing benefit for families that won't kick in until after the next federal election. The Canada Housing Benefit will help 300,000 families by providing an average rent subsidy of $2,500 annually, beginning in April 2020 and ending in 2028, the government has said.

The government also is preparing a separate Indigenous housing strategy tailored to the needs of the many Indigenous communities with inadequate housing where market-based solutions are often unfeasible.

'Manitoba stands to gain tremendously'

About $15 billion of the $40 billion plan is dependant on provincial cost sharing, said the report from the Social Planning Council Right to Housing Coalition, which urges Manitoba to contribute its share.

"Unless provinces match federal funding, the proposed national strategy will fall well short of its promise," the report says.

The Manitoba provincial government's obligation could be between $250 million and $300 million over 10 years, which suggests Manitoba will need to reverse cuts to its housing capital program, the report says.

"Manitoba stands to gain tremendously from the National Housing Strategy, but only if we put up our share. The province cannot afford to leave federal funds on the table."

And while the proposed $40 billion is the largest investment in housing in decades, it pales in comparison to the scale of public housing investments in the 1970s and 1980s, the report says.

"At that time, approximately 10 per cent of all new residential construction was dedicated to social housing."

The absence of a national strategy since then has exacerbated the homelessness situation in Canada, the report says.

In Winnipeg, rents have risen dramatically, while vacancy rates of low-cost housing hover close to zero, the report says. Winnipeg Street Census results in 2015 showed at least 50 homeless people for every affordable vacant bachelor suite in the city.

The report has six recommendations of ways the federal and Manitoba governments can work together to maximize the national strategy's chances of success. The recommendations touch on social housing, the definition of affordable housing, funding and a long-term plan.

"At Right to Housing, we have been asking for a national housing strategy for over a decade. Now that Ottawa is responding, it is important that we get the details right so that we meet the needs of low income people in Manitoba who need housing," said Clark Brownlee, a founding member of the coalition.