CHRA’s Blueprint for Housing: Maintaining Affordability
23 Feb 2023
By CHRA staff
CHRA’s Blueprint for Housing is an extensive policy document that will help inform CHRA’s advocacy efforts over the coming decade as we work towards our goal of ensuring that all who live in Canada have access to safe, affordable, appropriate housing.
The community housing sector plays a unique role in the housing continuum, providing below market rents to tenants who are unable to afford market rents. A core principle of the community housing sector is that no household should pay more than 30% of its net income on rent. If the community housing sector is going to be able to continue to offer affordable, below market rents to populations and tenants in greatest need, short- and long-term changes must be made to the federal government’s philosophy around housing, including its programs and policies. The fourth chapter of the Blueprint proposes recommendations to the federal government to protect and strengthen community housing affordability. Read on to learn more.
Ensuring the future of rental subsidy programs
The federal government has provided rental subsidies to community housing providers for decades, primarily through operating agreements, and more recently, through the Federal Community Housing Initiative. This model helped reduce housing need and homelessness in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The end of new federal operating agreements in the 1990s has been a significant factor in the increased levels of homelessness and core housing need seen today.
Ongoing provision of rental subsidies is consistent with a human rights-based approach to housing as captured in the 2019 National Housing Strategy Act. The federal government must adopt as a guiding principle that it has an ongoing, permanent role to play in the provision of rental subsidies to ensure that community housing is available to those in greatest need.
Recommendation: The adoption, as a guiding principle of federal housing policy, that the federal government has an ongoing, permanent role to play in the provision of rental subsidies for community housing.
Planning for rental subsidy programs
The Federal Community Housing Initiative (FCHI) and the Canada Community Housing Initiative (CCHI) are set to expire in 2028, and all remaining operating agreements are set to expire in the mid-2030s. Although this may appear to be a long way into the future, for housing providers who are planning for future development and renewal activities, this is not long at all. The lack of a clear federal plan beyond 2028 may already be putting plans to redevelop or renew existing housing in jeopardy.
The federal government must commit to a long-term, permanent subsidy framework that will provide ongoing subsidies for community housing in perpetuity. With six years to go before the FCHI and CCHI programs expire, there is time to consult on how a permanent subsidy framework could be established.
Recommendation: The introduction of a predictable, guaranteed, long-term rental subsidy framework that guarantees ongoing rental subsidies.
Ensuring the distribution of rental subsidies across the country
The National Housing Strategy, through the Canada Community Housing Initiative, provided federal dollars to cover 50% of the provincial and territorial cost to extend operating subsidies to 2028. Despite the positive intentions of this program, there are concerns over whether provinces and territories have used this funding for its intended purpose: to maintain ongoing subsidies for 10 years.
It is critical that federal support to the provinces and territories to maintain housing affordability is accountable and transparent. Provinces and territories must publicly report agreed upon metrics that demonstrate that these funds are being used for their intended purposes.
Recommendation: The inclusion of a requirement to report publicly on metrics and accountable measures to ensure that rental subsidy transfers to the provinces and territories for the purposes of maintaining and expanding provincial/territorial rental subsidies are being used for their intended purposes.
Ensuring rental subsidies reach those who need them most
The National Housing Strategy introduced the $4 billion Canada Housing Benefit, a portable rent supplement that eligible individuals could use to access housing at a unit of their choice.
Although portable housing subsidies can play a role in addressing housing need and/or reducing homelessness, they should not be viewed as a means to subsidize private landlords, especially in jurisdictions where lax rent controls allow landlords to raise rents substantially, thereby negating the value of the rent subsidy. If jurisdictions, including provinces and territories, agree to continue using portable rent subsidies as a tool to address housing need, conditions should be put in place that prioritizes units operated by community housing providers who have a mandate to maximize affordability.
Recommendation: Prioritization of the use of portable rental subsidies in community housing.
Want to learn more about CHRA’s recommendations for protecting housing affordability? Check out CHRA’s Blueprint for Housing.