Anti-poverty activists ask Liberals for $3.2B in budget
In this file photo, construction crews build housing and community centres in Saskatoon, Sask., on Feb. 2, 2012. (Liam Richards / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 4, 2016 11:08AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 4, 2016 6:57PM EST
OTTAWA -- Anti-poverty advocates are asking the federal government to invest $3.2 billion annually starting next year to update old and build new affordable housing units across the country.
The pre-budget ask from seven groups is aimed at helping the 235,000 Canadians who experience homelessness every year, and social housing providers who are beginning to see the end of federal funding agreements signed decades ago with no new capital funding in sight.
Advocacy groups from Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick, along with three national groups, hope to land $1.7 billion so housing providers and cities can update the 600,000 affordable housing units in Canada.
They are also asking for $1.5 billion to build 100,000 new units to help cut down wait lists in Canada's biggest cities.
Tim Richter, CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said there is an acute housing crisis in Canada with nearly one in four Canadian households unable to afford housing. The situation will only get worse in the coming years without federal action, he said.
Richter said the money his group and others are asking for could eliminate chronic and episodic homelessness in Canada.
It's an ambitious request for a government that has vowed to spend $1.7 billion this year on "social" infrastructure like affordable housing, seniors residences, and child care facilities, but the group says doing nothing could cost even more: Studies suggest homelessness costs Canada $7 billion annually in services and lost opportunities.
Jeff Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, said funding affordable housing would tick off other promises the Liberals made during the campaign, including helping Aboriginal Peoples and making Canadian infrastructure more environmentally friendly.
It would also put Canadians to work: Morrison said many housing providers have projects that are shovel ready, only needing some funding to make the work happen.
"We're not under any illusion that this is going to be a cheap fix. We know that investment has to be made, but it's pretty clear that the return on the investment is so significant," Morrison said.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said funding for affordable housing will be a key priority in the upcoming federal budget, and suggested the government may stretch its social infrastructure budget by looking at multi-purpose facilities that combine housing, daycare, and cultural facilities.
"At the end we're building strong, sustainable, welcoming, inclusive communities and all those things need to work together," Sohi said after meeting with the mayors of Canada's biggest cities.
"There are a lot of opportunities and I think that's the beauty of relying on local knowledge where communities actually understand what the needs are."
The annual "State of Homelessness in Canada" report found that federal investment in affordable housing has been cut nearly in half over the last 25 years, which meant that 100,000 units weren't built. Morrison said the $1.5 billion the group is requesting would be making up lost ground.
Cash from federal coffers will be cut further over the next 25 years as funding agreements decline from $1.6 billion down to zero by 2040.
In other cases, housing providers have wanted to refinance mortgages signed decades ago when interest rates of eight per cent were considered a steal. With rates even lower today, housing providers face stiff penalties to pay off the full mortgage early, making it cost prohibitive for them to renegotiate, Morrison said.
That's why the group is also asking the federal government to enact a program that never seemed to get off the ground from the 2015 federal budget that set aside $150 million over four years to cover pre-payment penalties.