Interview with Minister Duclos

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos(Original article written in French)

The RQOH[1] took advantage of a meeting with the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, to ask him some key housing and homelessness questions. With this portfolio, Minister Duclos is responsible for housing and the CMHC.

 

Minister, according to Statistics Canada, 773,725 renters devote more than 50% of their income to rent.  On the other hand, CMHC reports that on average homeowners spend 20% of their income on housing.  What kind of action can the federal government take to improve the financial circumstance of renters?

The government is committed to helping all Canadians find an affordable place where they can feel at home.  Our commitment to invest $20 billion over the next 10 years in social infrastructure, including in the construction of new houses, in the repair of existing affordable housing stock and in ensuring the affordability of low and geared-to-income social housing, is a major step forward and makes affordable housing a key government priority.

The federal government also made other commitments in the form of different activities to support affordable housing, including fully exempting all new capital investment in affordable housing from GST, exploring new sources of funding from a new infrastructure bank intended to support the construction of affordable rental units, and by taking stock of all federally owned lands and buildings to further the development of affordable housing units.

Finding the proper approach requires engagement with stakeholders like yourselves, the provinces and territories, municipalities and others.  As part of my new role, I would like to develop a collaborative relationship with both national and regional actors

For at least the last 20 years, CMHC has devoted much of its attention to stabilizing and supporting the private housing market and a relatively small part of its energies have gone into supporting social and community housing.  In fact, CHMC’s private market commitments, have continued to grow, unlike those for community and social housing, which are gradually declining as existing agreements are ending. As the new Minister responsible for CMHC, are you intending to change direction on this, and if so can you indicate the changes that you want to see happen?

In 2014, the federal government through CMHC invested $1.7 billion in support of some 570,000 households, including Quebec households in social housing.  As part of its affordable housing strategy, which will end in March 2019, the government provides $253 million in federal credits annually to reduce the number of Canadians needing housing.  The provinces and territories match the federal government’s contribution and are responsible for the design and execution of programs.  These funds can be used for construction, renovation, home ownership assistance, housing allowances, rent subsidies, as well as for housing the victims of domestic violence.  Since 2011, the program returned over $461 million to Quebec.

With these investments, alongside the provinces, territories and stakeholders’ contribution, Canada enjoys a strong and robust housing system, but we can do better.  That is why our government is determined to develop a strategy to restore federal government leadership by supporting affordable housing, beginning with our 10 year investment in social infrastructure.  Rest assured, helping vulnerable Canadians find suitable and sustainable housing in good condition, remains a priority for our government.

With an end to CMHC’s operating agreements on residential housing, more than a half million low income households face the prospect of significant rent increases.

Do you think the Canadian government has a responsibility to take the measures necessary to guarantee that these households will continue to be able to live in their homes without falling victim to rent increases?

As part of our government’s strategy to reassert federal government leadership in supporting affordable housing, investment and social infrastructure, we will lend priority to affordable and seniors housing, including constructing, repairing, and maintaining affordability for low income households and those living in social housing.

The stock of community housing developed as a result of federal government programs between 1960 and 1994 will need improvement if it is to live up to new housing standards (e.g., non-profit housing for seniors will need to install sprinklers within the next five years).  In addition, many non-profit housing developments will need to up the energy efficiency of their buildings. However, many don’t currently have access to the capital they need to make the investments to benefit the planet, and the economy, including their buildings and tenants. Can we expect help for these upgrades from your government?

Social housing units need renovation, modernization and energy-efficient enhancements.  As stated in my mandate letter, renovating social housing with the monies set aside for social infrastructure is a priority for our government.

The previous federal government amended the guidelines for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), the only program dealing with homeless people, and redirected it to the “Housing First” approach. We believe that this approach runs against the development of community housing and only partially responds to homeless peoples’ need for services. Our whole range of assistance, support, accompaniment and prevention services is at risk. Can we expect your government to bring back a more general and community-oriented Homelessness Partnering Strategy?  Is it possible that this program could eventually be modified to meet the peculiarities and needs of the regions?

The Canadian and Quebec governments have signed a fifth agreement on implementing the Homelessness Partnering Strategy for 2014 to 2019. This agreement gives Quebec almost $100 million in federal funding over five years.

The Homelessness Partnering Strategy’s Housing First approach — called the Residential, Stability and Accompaniment initiative in Quebec — is intended to help the homeless find sustainable and stable housing by first of all installing them in permanent housing and then providing them with the support services they need (e.g. mental health supports, help with substance abuse, or other issues).

If the Housing First approach is the cornerstone for the new Homelessness Partnering Strategy, communities do retain some flexibility to invest in other proven approaches in order to reduce local homelessness to an appreciable degree.

One of the greatest strengths of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy rests in the fact that it encourages cooperation between the various levels of government, agencies, the private sector and community organizations in the search for innovative solutions.

One of the government’s key priorities is to provide direct support to those in need.  The Government of Canada will do this by investing in economic growth, solidifying the middle class and in supporting those that are working hard to get there. Our commitments on affordable and social housing, including a commitment to provide communities with the money they need for Housing First initiatives, will help Canada’s homeless find stable housing.

 


[1]  RQOH – The Quebec non-profit housing network.