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Housing reality check: Canada behind on building housing for marginalized communities, advocates say

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The federal government has spent about half of the $82.5 billion in its National Housing Strategy funding and has now spent all of its funds that it had set aside to build low-income rental units for vulnerable people.

The Liberals' 10-year National Housing Strategy, launched in 2017, aims to build up the housing supply and address homelessness through partnerships with non-profits, developers and other governments.

As of Sept. 30, the government has spent $38.89 billion of its $82.5-billion National Housing Strategy, according to figures provided to CTV National News by the Office of the Minister of Housing.

The data also reveals that the government has spent the entirety of its $4-billion Rapid Housing Initiative, which is designed to reduce homelessness by directly funding the construction of low-income housing for marginalized groups such Indigenous people, LGBTQ youth and single mothers.

Although the funding spent for affordable units is small compared to the $82.5-billion total, the government has sped up its allocation of the funds ahead of its March 31, 2024, deadline.

According to the data provided by Housing Minister Sean Fraser's staff, since 2020, the $4-billion fund has helped build more than 15,600 rental apartments at a cost of about $250,000 per unit.

Fraser’s staff said that when the fund was initially announced three years ago, the target was to build 12,000 units, which the Liberal government has already surpassed.

"When we are dealing with affordable housing projects, the federal government is contributing to the cost of constructing the buildings," Fraser said on Wednesday. "It's very expensive to build housing."

The new low-income rental units are in various stages of construction. But housing advocates say while welcome, they're just a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

According to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH), an estimated 300,000 people, who can only afford subsidized housing, are in shelters, on the streets or "couch surfing" across Canada.

"Homelessness is surging in Canada today because the whole rental housing market is unaffordable," Tim Richter, founder and head of the Calgary-based housing advocacy group, told CTV National News. "For people experiencing homelessness, housing has to be affordable."

CAEH estimates that at least two million rental units need to be built to meet demand and drive down costs. Of the millions of homes that need to be built, Richter says as many as 650,000 rental units should be geared toward people in lower income brackets who require social assistance.

Richter said those on income support can only afford rent that's less than $500 a month. Affordable rent is defined by housing advocates as 30 per cent of gross monthly income.

According to Rentals.ca's latest report, asking rents in Canada averaged $2,178 in October.

Rents hit a new high for the sixth month in a row. It also found average asking rents rose by 8.8 per cent, or by $175 per month, in the last six months.

Richter says the federal government is "on track" with investing towards building up to 160,000 new homes as one of the goals of its National Housing Strategy and some programs like the Rapid Housing Initiative have beat their targets.

However, he says creating affordable units is a problem.

"The challenge is most of the units they are creating under the NHS are not affordable to people in deepest core housing need, and Canada is losing affordable rental housing far faster than it is being produced," he said in an email to CTVNews.ca.

The National Housing Strategy promises to produce about 160,000 new units, Richter explained, but between 2011 and 2021, Canada lost more than 550,000 units that could be rented for less than $750 per month.

Since Aug. 1, the government has announced at least 24 low-income housing projects across Canada.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called the announcements "photo ops at the expense of Canadian taxpayers" during question period in Ottawa on Wednesday.

"The irony is the leader of the Opposition is attacking us for making announcements on thousands upon thousands of new units built across the country," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in response.

According to the government's latest figures for its National Housing Strategy, more than 151,803 new housing units were created or committed since Sept. 30, 344,489 community housing units were protected, and 30 per cent of funding was allocated for the housing needs of women and their children.

Some figures in this story have been adjusted based on new information from the federal government.

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