Costs of national housing strategy likely too much for federal budget, CMHC says

The head of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says the combined cost of all the expectations for a national housing strategy would likely be too much for the federal budget to handle.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will make recommendations for the federal government

A construction worker shingles the roof of a new home in a development in Ottawa. The CMHC's consultations on a national housing strategy come to the capital this week for three days of hearing from experts. (Sean Kilpatrick)

The Crown corporation overseeing work on a national housing strategy is signalling that those interested in the plan should temper their expectations about the final outcome.

Housing advocates have long called for a national plan on housing to move people out of shelters and into homes, increase the stock of affordable housing — an area the federal government has retreated from over the last three decades — and deal with concerns about affordability in the country's biggest cities.

That has led to high expectations.

The head of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation suggested Tuesday that the combined cost of implementing all those expectations would likely be too much for the federal budget to handle.

The Crown corporation has estimated the fiscal impact of a national strategy, but CMHC president and CEO Evan Siddall declined to provide it during a conference call Tuesday.

"If you summed just the budgetary implications of what everybody expects from a national housing strategy, we would have an irresponsible budget request. It's just as simple as that," he said.

"The objective… is to recommend those policies and those ideas and indeed a strategy that makes the best use of available government funds to maximize social and economic outcomes for Canadians."

Results to government in mid-fall

Siddall said CMHC's job is to resolve what it is hearing from Canadians into a coherent plan for the federal government to consider.

That plan would feed into a national anti-poverty strategy and also work in tandem with a separate study looking at what is driving up costs in some of the country's hottest housing markets like Toronto and Vancouver.

The majority of Canadians are able to afford their housing, but an estimated 1.6 million people need housing help. The government's decision on how much to spend and where to target the money would dictate how much of an impact the Liberals will have in their sweeping plan to make housing affordable and available to all.

The "Let's Talk Housing" consultations started in earnest in June with the launch of an online portal that included a survey and a way for people to upload documents for officials to study. Submissions have focused on the need to make housing affordable.

CMHC is set to head into more intensive consultations at a series of Ottawa meetings scheduled for the rest of this week with experts who have studied a range of housing issues.

Siddall said the corporation invited people based on their expertise, research or history in housing, as opposed to inviting advocacy groups.

A meeting is also scheduled later this month with national aboriginal organizations, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and construction associations among other groups CMHC sees as key national stakeholders.

Consultations close in late October, at which time CMHC officials will use the information collected to craft policy recommendations that will be privately passed along to the federal government.

The CMHC plans to make public by Nov. 22 the results of what it hears during its consultations.