Housing experts and politicians divided over Liberals' $40B affordable housing plan
Published Wednesday, November 22, 2017 8:40PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 22, 2017 9:06PM EST
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Wednesday the Liberal government’s $40-billion plan to take pressure off low-earning families through a series of housing promises over the next decade.
A new housing benefit for low-income tenants, billions in repairs for aging affordable housing, and the creation of 60,000 new affordable units are among the government’s strategy. According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, nearly 1.7 million Canadian households were in “core housing need” in 2016.
Speaking in Toronto, Trudeau touted the “life-changing” plan as Canada’s first-ever national housing strategy and said it “re-establishes the important role the federal government must play in affordable housing.”
The plan includes a $15.9 billion housing fund that would create new housing units and provide money for repairs to 240,000 existing affordable housing units. Another $2.2 billion has been committed to reduce homelessness.
Here’s how housing experts, politicians and stakeholders responded to the news.
‘Thumbs up for sure’
Former Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who now serves as co-chair of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, called the plan “a real strategy,” but also pointed out some potential pitfalls.
“Very clearly, they’ve articulated a vision in terms of affordability and need,” Page told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday.
Page pointed out some problems in the plan, particularly when it comes to the timeline. For instance, the portable housing benefit, which would provide an average of $2,500 in aid for those in social housing or waiting for assistance, would kick in after 2021.
If the Liberals don’t win the 2019 election, Page said “that would be a huge yellow flag.”
Regardless, he said it’s important for governments to plan beyond their mandates.
“I think it has to be long term. We have to get used to 10-year plans and 10-year plans for housing. We have 10-year plans for infrastructure, we have 10-, 20-, 30-year plans for defence, and we should get used to that,” he said.
Page also voiced concern about the report’s low number of chronic homeless.
“A lot of people that I get to work with say the number is two, three times higher than the number they talk about. So it’s important we get to the right starting points,” he said.
Despite those issues, Page described the strategy as “a thumbs up for sure.”
“This is a government doing a good job,” he said.
‘A timid plan’
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh dismissed Wednesday’s announcement as all talk at a time when he says Canada needs to see “bold action” on the affordable housing file.
Speaking in Ottawa, Singh said the country is in the midst of a housing crisis.
“There are 1.7 million Canadians that don’t have access to adequate housing. We can’t wait for funding. We need it now,” Singh said.
“We see the government make an announcement at a time when we need bold action. What we’re basically seeing is a timid plan.”
Singh urged the federal government to immediately address the issue, and said withholding funds until after the 2019 election is “not really addressing the seriousness of this crisis.”
‘So typical of the Liberals’
Conservative MP Candace Bergen, the former housing minister under Stephen Harper, opposed the government’s approach and said Canadians “don’t need a group of people in Ottawa telling them how to fix the housing challenges.”
“Different regions of the country have different challenges, different municipalities. There are different challenges facing the country,” Bergen told CTV’s Power Play.
On homelessness, Bergen insisted that helping those with addictions and mental illness is “more the approach.” She added that any plan must include all levels of government.
“I think certainly funding and letting provinces make decisions is a really important part of it. Municipalities and cities have a huge impact on the type of housing and what’s available,” she said.
Bergen criticized the Liberals’ timeline on the housing strategy and called the post-election delivery date “so typical of the Liberals.”
“Lots of shiny glitz over here, and usually no results. And usually, in fact, what they’re trying to do bombs in the end,” she said.
‘These are absolute necessary investments’
Jeff Morrison, director of the Canada Housing and Renewal Agency, said his organization is “very pleased” with Wednesday’s announcement.
“It really has to be remembered that before today, the roughly 600,000 units of social and affordable housing in Canada were at serious risk of being lost. We haven’t had really a serious, significant federal investment in social housing in many decades,” Morrison told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
There is a critical need to repair and renovate existing affordable housing units, Morrison said. In Toronto, Morrison said about one affordable housing unit is closed each day because there simply isn’t enough funding to keep it up to code.
“That’s simply not acceptable,” he said. “These are absolute necessary investments.”
But Morrison also pointed out that the announcement includes a cost-sharing plan that will require provinces and territories to match the government’s commitment. Morrison said it’s “yet to be seen” how that dynamic will play out, but said he thinks provinces and municipalities will be “keen” to work with a government that has a plan.
As for the government’s timeline, Morrison said he’s willing to give the government a pass.
“Clearly there’s a need to get this money out the door as quick as possible, but you know, we’ll give them a bit of a break and say let’s give them the time to make sure these programs get done right and not done quickly,” he said.
Overall, Morrison hailed the announcement as good news.
“This is really the next generation of social housing policies in Canada,” he said.