Federal budget doesn't do enough to end housing crisis, Sask. experts say

Though the latest federal budget includes a focus on housing affordability, some Saskatchewan residents and housing advocates say it doesn't meet the mark on solving homelessness and a mounting housing crisis.

'It's a housing budget solution, clearly not a homelessness budget solution,' says advocate

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tables the federal budget in the House of Commons Thursday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Though the latest federal budget included a focus on housing issues, some Saskatchewan residents and housing advocates say it doesn't meet the mark on solving those problems.

The 2022 budget, unveiled Thursday, has been dubbed the "housing budget," with $10.1 billion in spending over five years directed at housing, including measures to get more people into homes of their own.

"I still don't see myself ever owning a house," said Saskatoon resident Justine Yantz. "It seems kind of an impossible dream to me right now, since we can't even save up any money."

Yantz, a single mother of a 10-year-old daughter who has been diagnosed with autism, myotonic dystrophy and an intellectual disability, receives $955 from the province per month under the Saskatchewan Income Support program.

Close to $700 goes for her rent and the remainder barely covers her utilities. 

Yantz said her expenses have increased in the past couple of months, with inflation climbing.

"I can't buy things I used to buy, like books or clothing for my daughter.… We've never been this broke before."

Justine Yantz poses with her daughter, Serena. Yantz says it's been hard to make ends meet under the new Saskatchewan Income Support program and feels left out of the federal budget. (Submitted by Justine Yantz)

The budget includes $475 million for a round of one-time direct payments of $500 to "those facing housing affordability challenges," the federal government says.

But Yantz, who says she has to use her child care benefits to pay bills, doesn't see herself represented in the budget. 

"I don't think $500 is enough. It doesn't even cover my rent."

'Clearly not a homelessness budget solution'

The federal government's spending plan does little for renters, says Toby Esterby, chair at Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership — a non-profit focused on homelessness and affordable housing.

"Seeing this budget and other policies till now, they look at renters as second-class home occupiers," he said.

Esterby said renters face high eviction rates, with many behind in payments, and the one time-payment of $500 for people facing affordability issues wouldn't even cover two weeks' of rent for most.

As well, he says most people struggling with homelessness "can't get an appointment at a bank," so "it's arrogant and insulting to create a program that you need an account and ID and electronic connection to receive those funds."

Toby Esterby, chair at Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, says the budget caters to addressing housing affordability mostly for those with a median income. (Shaun Salen)

The budget also extends the federal rapid housing initiative, pledging $1.5 billion over two years to create at least 6,000 new housing units to help combat homelessness.

That's a step toward the right direction, but creating more houses alone cannot solve the housing crisis, said Esterby.

"It's a small, small percentage of the need. We would need at least 20 per cent of those 6,000 units just for Saskatoon, and it's supposed to do the whole country. Clearly not enough," he said.

He also said the rapid housing initiative should include city-specific solutions, since what may work in Toronto or Vancouver might not necessarily work in Saskatoon or Regina.

Proper consultation with people in need and organizations that work with those people would have led to better solutions, Esterby said, but the budget instead caters to addressing housing affordability for those with median incomes.

"This is a housing budget solution. It's clearly not a homelessness budget solution," he said. "You can't solve homelessness by building a bunch of $300,000 homes."

$500 payment a 'Band-Aid solution'

Len Usiskin is the executive director of Quint Development Corp. — a not-for-profit that works to providing affordable and transitional housing in Saskatoon for people who face renting challenges.

He said while $10 billion in spending over five years sounds like a lot of money, it won't go far when spread out across the country.

He says in September, Quint issued eviction notices to 11 tenants — about the number of notices they'd normally issue in an entire year.

"We've seen the situation get worse over the last quarter of 2021. Between October and December, we've seen the amount of people in arrears increase significantly," he said.

The $500 one-time payment seems like a "Band-Aid solution," he said, with few details attached and no definitions around how "people facing affordability" challenges will be defined. 

Len Usiskin, the executive director of Quint Development Corp., says there are few details around a $500 one-time payment for those facing housing affordability challenges. (Submitted by Len Usiskin)

He said Ottawa should have looked at expanding the Canada Housing Benefit, which "subsidizes people's rent on an ongoing basis."

He also wants to see support for "affordable rental non-profit providers, so that then we can subsidize maintenance costs and provide support."

Jason Childs, an associate professor of economics at the University of Regina, said the budget is more focused on urban centres like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal than Saskatchewan or Alberta, and notes $10 billion in spending is a small fraction of the $450 billion budget.

"We're talking about $2 billion in spending every year. Every year in Canada, the investment in residential construction is $250 billion. This is not going to radically move the needle anywhere," Childs said.

University of Regina associate professor of Economics Jason Childs says the 2022 budget is 'a headline budget' with 'a lot of incoherence.' (CBC)

Part of the $10 billion in spending is a new housing accelerator fund — worth $4 billion over five years — to help municipalities speed up housing development, aiming to create 100,000 new housing units in the next five years.

He's optimistic about the fund, but said 100,000 units will not meet the demand, as Canada's immigration inflow each year is getting higher. 

Canada's 2021‒2023 immigration plan aims to add 411,000 permanent residents in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023.

"The accelerator fund might shrink the permitting time [for housing construction], but none of it is really going to alter the supply of housing relative to demand," he said.

As well, the target of 6,000 new housing units through the rapid housing initiative "will alone be swallowed by Toronto, and won't be enough for Saskatchewan or anywhere else," said Childs.

"This is a headline budget — all about generating headlines," with "a lot of incoherence," he said.

'"It's trying to do six different things, half of which contradicts the other half."

It won't solve the housing problem in the immediate future, especially with inflation at a 30-year high, Childs said.

"This budget basically told the Bank of Canada, you are on your own to fix inflation, so we are probably looking at 1.5 per cent increase in interest rates in six months."

In a statement Friday, Saskatchewan's premier also took aim at the federal budget, saying it "misses the mark for provincial priorities" such as the Canada Health Transfer and initiatives for the energy sector

"This federal budget continues to invest in programming without having the incentives to stimulate the economy to pay for it in the future," Scott Moe's emailed statement said.

Some relief for home buyers 

Childs said the budget does not respond to the needs of those with minimum wage — something Manish Shamnani, a mortgage associate with Regina's Dominion Lending Centres, also notes.

"A person with minimum wage absolutely can't afford a home unless they're willing to go for a smallest condo," said Shamnani.

However, the new tax-free savings account introduced in the budget — which would give first-time home buyers the chance to save up to $40,000 with tax-deductible contributions and withdrawals — will be helpful for first-time buyers, he said.

And the accelerator fund is a step in the right direction, but the "market is already crazy, with high demand and low supply" in places like the Greater Toronto Area, he said.

Manish Shamnani, a mortgage associate at Dominion Lending Centres, says a new tax-free savings for first-time home buyers will be helpful. (Submitted by Manish Shamnani)

In Saskatchewan, Shamnani said the housing market has seen relatively stable inventory. 

"In the coming months, the demand will still be there, mortgage rates will go on the higher side, but I don't think the prices of the houses in Saskatoon will go down," he said.

"A big part is 'what is the definition of affordable housing?'"


Pratyush Dayal covers climate change, immigration and race and gender issues among general news for CBC News in Saskatchewan. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and the Tyee. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UBC and can be reached at


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