HANSARD: Budget debate on housing crisis

Budget Implementation Act, 2023, No. 1
Government Orders
April 27th, 2023 / 4:45 p.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to rise and enter into debate about budget 2023.

There are many issues I want to touch on with the budget, but first and foremost, I must speak about the situation with the housing crisis that Canadians are facing from coast to coast to coast. It does not matter if one is in a large or a small community; there is a housing crisis all across the country.

There are encampments in communities big and small, and unhoused people are in fact dying on the streets, unable to access safe, secure and affordable housing. Long-term renters are getting pushed out of their apartments just so that corporate landlords can turn a bigger profit. Tenants cannot find an affordable home, and prospective homeowners are priced right out of the market.

Housing costs went up 77% under the Harper government and by another $300,000 under the Liberals. Therefore, successive Conservative and Liberal federal governments have abandoned their responsibility to invest in social and co-op housing. They are letting housing profiteering go unchecked right under their noses.

Real estate investment trusts enjoy preferential tax treatment, and the seven largest real estate investment trusts alone have saved a combined $1.5 billion through federal tax loopholes. The Parliamentary Budget Officer just released a report estimating that the federal government will lose another $300 million in taxes over the next four years. Yes, the Liberals are letting corporate landlords profit off Canada's urgent housing crisis by purchasing affordable housing stock and renovicting long-term tenants to jack up rents.

This is what the financialization of housing means, and it has to stop. Housing is a basic human right and not a commodity. Budget 2023 was an opportunity for the Liberal government to tackle the housing crisis and stop wealthy corporate landlords from treating housing like a stock market. Sadly, it fails to take the necessary action to ensure that Canadians' basic right to housing is met.

The Federal Housing Advocate calls the budget a “sorry disappointment.” Previously, the Auditor General issued a damning report stating that the government will not reach its own targets to reduce chronic homelessness. The 25 largest financialized landlords held more than 330,000 units last year, which is nearly 20% of the country's private purpose-built stock of rental apartments. It is time to put people before profits, and the NDP has real solutions to address housing profiteering.

I am calling on the Liberals to take a human rights-based approach to housing, as enshrined in the national housing strategy. The federal government must stop rewarding real estate investment trusts for pushing out long-term tenants and jacking up housing prices. We must end special tax treatment and make them pay their fair share.

It is time for a moratorium on the acquisition of affordable homes by real estate investment trusts and other corporate landlords, which are making big profits while driving up the cost of housing, as well as renovicting and demovicting Canadians. It is time to put housing back into the hands of the people.

The federal government needs to use the taxes from real estate investment trusts and create a non-profit acquisition fund to allow not-for-profits, co-ops and land trust organizations to purchase at-risk rental buildings when they come on the market. There should be no more profiteering, no more renovictions and no more special tax treatment for corporate landlords.

Aside from addressing the issue of the financialization of housing, or profiteering, we need to take other actions as well. The coinvestment fund is a program within the national housing strategy. In the budget, this fund is almost depleted. I had been looking for the government to actually make new investments into the coinvestment fund to support non-profits in the development of social and co-op housing. However, that did not happen.

What the government did was rob Peter to pay Paul; it took repair dollars within that fund to put into the construction arm of the fund. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is actually not going to get projects done. If the government does not replenish the coinvestment fund, we are not going to see those projects become viable; thus, we will not see the much-needed housing develop in the community.

Strangely, the Minister of Housing, with the ministry, decided to put a cap of $25,000 per unit on the dollars that non-profits can access out of the coinvestment fund. In the face of the rising cost of housing, inflationary costs and so on, that cap will only kill projects. It will just mean that the projects cannot be developed. That makes no sense whatsoever. The federal government needs to lift the cap on this requirement.

The NDP also wanted the government to invest in the rapid housing initiative. This is one program that is working relatively well, but we need to make sure that the community knows there is sustainable funding in that stream. Therefore, the NDP called for the government to invest $1.5 billion annually into the rapid housing initiative. Sadly, we did not see that investment either.

One investment in housing that we did see, which the NDP fought tooth and nail for, was this: the “for indigenous, by indigenous” urban, rural and northern housing strategy. For too long, indigenous, Métis and Inuit peoples who have lived away from their home communities have not gotten the housing supports they need. Somehow, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not recognized when they are away from their home community. This is wrong. Therefore, we have been pushing the government and demanding that action be taken.

I am glad to see that, in this budget, there is an investment of $4 billion over seven years to be made in a for indigenous, by indigenous urban, rural and northern housing strategy. That is a start, I will say, and more needs to be done. This amount of money may sound like a lot, but it is still absolutely deficient when it comes to addressing the housing crisis for urban, rural and northern indigenous, Métis and Inuit peoples in our communities.

We also need to make sure that the government rolls these dollars out quickly. It should not slow-walk or back-end load the program, as it has done with other programs in the national housing strategy. I would also say that it has to be true that the programs are delivered as a for indigenous, by indigenous housing strategy. The government has to hold true on this. We need sustainable funding for this into the long term.

I would also say that, in the budget, I was glad to see what the NDP had pushed for and forced the government to take action on, which is the dental program. I cannot tell members how much seniors in my riding need this program. I have met seniors who have lost their teeth and are unable to afford to get dental services, where they are blending up their food to drink it in order to get the sustenance that they need to stay alive. This is just wrong. Our seniors are desperate for this program, and I am so glad to see that the NDP prioritized this and demanded that the government put forward this dental program. Therefore, at the end of this year, seniors, people with disabilities and people aged 19 and under would be able to access this program, and it is high time that we actually look at health care from head to toe and ensure that people's oral health is taken care of.

I have much more to say about this budget. There are some good parts, and there are some parts that are missing. No matter what, the NDP will continue to use our power to force the government to take action. I will continue to speak up on the things where the government fell short and to fight for the community so that every member has access to fair and equal treatment and can live with dignity in our communities from coast to coast to coast.

Chad Collins Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, first and foremost, I want to thank the member for her support of the budget and for her advocacy on the housing file. As the member knows, we are going to start the financialization of housing study soon at HUMA. I know the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, who is the author of that motion, is here tonight. I look forward to that.

I just want to ask a question about social housing and the importance of investing in that. The member mentioned the rapid housing initiative. We have now had three rounds of rapid housing funds that have benefited my municipality, in particular, in my riding, and I know Vancouver has been a leader on the modular-build front. I am anxious to see further investments in that area. Could the member talk about and highlight the benefits of rapid housing and the modular builds that we have seen across the country?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, it is important for the federal government to show leadership with a national affordable housing initiative. To that end, we need to cut the red tape. The member knows very well that the federal government's CMHC is not ensuring that programs are delivered. As it is said, projects go to CMHC to die, and that is not good enough. We have to cut the red tape.

Investment needs to be commensurate with the needs in our communities. The federal Liberal government cancelled the national affordable housing program in 1993. As a result of that, we lost more than half a million units of social housing and co-op housing that would otherwise have been built. We need to at least make up for that and then some as part of the solution to addressing the housing crisis.

Tracy Gray Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, in her speech, the member talked quite a bit about housing. Both of us are from British Columbia, where there is some of the highest housing costs in the country. At committee, when the housing minister was there, a Conservative asked him if he considers our housing situation in Canada a crisis. He would not acknowledge that we have a housing crisis in Canada.

I am wondering if the member can comment on that and what her thoughts are on the fact that the housing minister does not consider that we have a housing crisis in Canada.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, there is no question that we have a housing crisis in Canada from coast to coast to coast. It does not matter if it is a small community or a large community, there is a housing crisis.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have failed to tackle the issues sufficiently. The reality is that corporate landlords are making a killing. Real estate investment trusts are not paying their fair share of taxes. Why did the Conservatives allow this to happen? Why are the Liberals continuing to allow this to happen? That is why the NDP is saying no more free rides. Real estate investment trusts need to pay their fair share. If that had happened, we would have close to $2 billion that could be invested back into housing to support people in the community.

Bonita Zarrillo Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member so much for her advocacy and work on housing. It is because of the member that we are trying to save so much social housing in the community, but it is still very much at risk.

I wonder if the member could share with the government how much of our affordable housing is really at risk and what the impacts will be if we lose more of it.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her excellent work in advocating for the community, not just on housing but also on disability issues.

I will say this, just so that everybody understands. For every one unit of social housing or co-op housing built by the government, 15 units are lost. That is a significant number. We can never build enough to make up for that loss. That is why we have to stop corporate landlords from taking the affordable housing stock. That is why we have to support non-profits in holding that stock in perpetuity for the community. If we do not do that, housing prices will continue to rise and more and more people will die because they are unhoused and unable to access safe, secure, affordable housing.

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