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National Housing Day Reflections

17 Nov 2022

By Leah Blunden, CHRA Communications Manager

 

National Housing Day is right around the corner and the need for affordable housing is as urgent as ever. People across the country are feeling the squeeze as rising inflation, interest rates and rapidly rising rents increase the cost of living for those from all walks of life. CHRA’s goal is to ensure that everyone who lives in Canada has the right to safe, affordable, appropriate housing. This National Housing Day, we’re reflecting on what we need to do to make our goal a reality.

 

What is National Housing Day?

National Housing Day began in 1998, with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) urging all levels of government to declare “homelessness a national disaster requiring emergency humanitarian relief”. Later, in October that year, TDRC released their State of Emergency Declaration: An Urgent Call for Emergency Humanitarian Relief & Prevention Measures. Following this action, Toronto City Council passed a motion to support this declaration. On November 22, 1998, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayor’s Caucus passed a similar motion. National Housing Day honours that motion.[1] Almost a quarter century later, the disaster is worsening and we’re still living under a housing and homelessness crisis.

 

How CHRA works to advance the cause of community housing

Earlier iterations of National Housing Day called attention to the fact that Canada had been the only G-8 country without a national housing strategy. Since Canada’s National Housing Strategy (NHS) launched in 2017, this is no longer the case; however much work is yet to be done to meet the Strategy’s goals to reduce core housing need, create and preserve affordable housing, and cut chronic homelessness in half by 2030.

Many of CHRA’s recommendations made prior to the announcement of the NHS appear in the strategy, which continues to be amended with new programs and policies. Much of our recent engagement with the federal government has focused on potential improvements to NHS programs to help facilitate the development and preservation of community housing units for our members and the wider community housing sector.

 

Our top advocacy priorities for a sustainable community housing sector

We believe that community housing is the key to unlocking a Canada that is fair, inclusive, and affordable for all. The current economic climate has made housing a top-of-mind issue for the public and for federal officials.

CHRA engages with members and sector partners to engage with federal elected officials on the biggest issues impacting the community housing sector. This fall, we released our Blueprint for Housing – a policy document that will help inform CHRA’s advocacy efforts over the coming decade. The CHRA team has consulted with members to identify the following urgent priorities from the Blueprint’s recommendations that will be prioritized in our advocacy efforts going forward:

 

The creation of a fully funded Indigenous-governed Urban, Rural and Northern (URN) Indigenous Housing Centre that develops and delivers the URN Indigenous Housing Strategy.

The 2017 National Housing Strategy failed to include a strategy or plan to address critical housing needs facing URN Indigenous peoples. It was a clear omission of a comprehensive approach that improves URN Indigenous housing to “Eliminate the Gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous households. The incidence of core housing need among Indigenous households (18.3 per cent) is much higher than among non-Indigenous households (12.4 per cent) and only continues to worsen without an URN strategy in place. Adopting a ‘For Indigenous By Indigenous’ (FIBI) housing strategy, administered by an Indigenous-led and governed organization that represents the unique needs of URN Indigenous housing providers in collaboration with other governments and stakeholders is a critical step towards Reconciliation. CHRA is supporting Indigenous housing organizations, through the Indigenous Caucus to move this forward. This week, our staff are in Vancouver hosting a national gathering that includes a broad coalition of Indigenous groups that all support action on an URN Indigenous Housing Strategy.

 

The creation of a national Property Acquisition Program to support community housing providers with pre-approved CMHC funding and financing to buy existing rental properties and preserve affordability.

CHRA members firmly believe there needs to be a permanent, ongoing federal program in place to allow for building acquisition. Acquisition is currently not eligible for funding or financing under current NHS programs, such as the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) and Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI). Newer programs like the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) specifically exclude acquisition of existing residential properties. A $1.5 billion annual commitment ($1 billion in low-interest loans and $500 million in contributions) can efficiently support community housing providers to purchase over 6,000 rental homes annually and preserve affordability.

 

That the government increase the value of grants for the creation, repair, and renewal of affordable housing through National Housing Strategy programs to offset skyrocketing borrowing costs.

The NHS has multiple programs designed to increase the supply of affordable housing, including the NHCF and RCFI. These programs have been key drivers of affordable housing creation in Canada over the last five years. However, they were created during a period of historically low interest rates and do not reflect the rapidly changing economic climate Canadians find themselves in. The affordable housing sector remains committed to working with the government to overcome these challenges. Doing so requires increased grant contributions through NHS loan programs like NHCF to offset skyrocketing borrowing costs. Failure to do so will slow the pace of new affordable housing development, and cause capital renewal projects to be put on hold or cancelled altogether.

 

While the Blueprint for Housing contains 27 recommendations to address the gaps in existing housing policies and programs, we believe that addressing our current priorities will provide immediate relief to the community housing sector and help alleviate the housing crisis being faced by households across the country.

Twenty-four years after that original emergency declaration, the crisis has only deepened. Back in 1998 activists and housing advocates were seeing the early consequences of governments cutting investments in community housing and supports to people at risk of homelessness. Newer commitments have surely slowed the ongoing crisis, but the problem is still worsening. CHRA will continue fighting to increase the supply and improve the condition of community housing. We will keep working with you to end this crisis and ensure that everyone in Canada has safe, affordable, appropriate housing.

Check out the following resources and documents to learn more about our current advocacy work:

 

[1] Homeless Hub: What is National Housing Day? Where did it originate? What happens on that day? https://www.homelesshub.ca/resource/what-national-housing-day-where-did-it-originate-what-happens-day