The House

Can a new strategy put a dent in Canada's housing problems?

Will the Liberals' National Housing Strategy really make a difference? We talk to cabinet minister, and the former head of a homeless shelter, Patty Hajdu.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, announces the Liberal government's National Housing Strategy in Toronto on Nov. 22, 2017. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Housing advocates say they are pleased with the federal government's national housing strategy, but see the billions of dollars in promised spending over the next 10 years as just the beginning of the effort needed to combat homelessness.

The president of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association says this week's announcement, and acknowledgement that housing is a human right, are excellent news but only first steps to address homelessness in this country.

"What we've created is a situation where it won't be worse tomorrow than it is today, which is already great news, but it's not fixing the problem," Stéphan Corriveau told The House.

The plan unveiled on Wednesday contains money to build 100,000 new affordable housing units and to repair another 300,000 existing ones.

The government also says it will cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.

The issue for many advocates is that several of the commitments, including a housing relief benefit that would provide low-income families with an average rent subsidy of $2,500 a year, won't begin until after the next election.

The President of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association explains what's to like about, and what's missing from, Ottawa's National Housing Strategy. 6:56

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu says the government understands the urgency to act.

"I can tell you it's profoundly distressing that no government in the last 25 years had taken their obligations seriously to Canadians who are literally freezing to death," she told The House when asked why that housing benefit won't be available until 2021.

"It is something that will actually transform, I think, precarious housing. It will transform lives in this country."

Corriveau says the housing benefit is not the only promise that will come later. His main concern is addressing the challenges faced by Indigenous people and homeless youth.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"If the government thinks it is off the hook? No. They are seen as a credible and solid partner but they still have to deliver."

Hajdu says a separate housing strategy is coming for Indigenous people and will be developed with their input.

"Gone are the days when the federal government will say to Indigenous communities and people thou shalt do this," she says.

"That is the principle of nation-to-nation relationships. It's insisting that things are done in partnership with Indigenous leaders."

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour discusses her government's National Housing Strategy. 9:49