HANSARD: Jenny asks when the government will fix the housing crisis

House of Commons Debate
Adjournment Proceedings
February 16th, 2023 / 6 p.m.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to addressing the homelessness and housing crisis, the Liberals would be hard pressed to do any worse. The Auditor General's report on chronic homelessness found that the federal government does not even know whether the national housing strategy is working to prevent and reduce chronic homelessness, yet they have spent billions to develop unaffordable housing.

On November 15, 2022, I asked the minister when the government will do its job so that everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home. The minister responded that he accepts the Auditor General's report and that the government would implement all of the recommendations, yet in December, the CEO of CMHC, Romy Bowers, confirmed the government will not meet its targets on reducing chronic homelessness. Her response was, “It is a very challenging target to meet.”

The Liberals' failure to lead is only worsening the crisis. Skyrocketing rents are forcing families to choose between food and rent. Shelters are over capacity and tent cities are expanding. In Toronto, during a recent extreme cold weather alert, 99% of warming centre spaces were occupied. Unhoused people are dying across the country. Organizations such as the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness are sounding the alarm, calling for greater action to address surging homelessness.

Rather than stepping up in support, the government's response is to exclude people who have rent paid directly to their landlord by social assistance programs from receiving the $500 rental housing benefit, which the NDP forced them to deliver. These are some of the people with the lowest incomes, including seniors, people with disabilities and individuals on income assistance, and the government is punishing them. It is absolutely appalling. Meanwhile, the CMHC cannot even deliver on funds that have already been committed. Not a single cent of the $420 million for transitional homes and shelters for indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people has been released. It has been two years since the announcement, and there has been zero progress on building these projects.

On the federal lands initiative, the government has disbursed only about 11% of the money allocated last year to support urban, rural and northern indigenous housing. The government's website says there is no property available. With the coinvestment fund, 115,000 units have received funding commitments, but the funding has not flowed. Projects are sitting there waiting as project costs rise due to inflation.

Now the government has introduced a new funding limit of $25,000 per unit for the fund, which means many projects will no longer be viable. I have heard people say that CMHC is where projects go to die. Sadly, this seems to be the case. What will it take to get projects delivered?

The minister called the coinvestment fund the flagship program for deeply affordable housing, yet in a written response to my question at HUMA, CMHC described the coinvestment fund as a supply initiative with an affordability definition linked to the cost of a unit versus market prices. It is not surprising then that the Auditor General found low-income people cannot afford much of the housing being built through this program. The government cannot even get its story straight. Some community organizations have projects ready but have been told by CMHC that the coinvestment fund has been depleted.

When my colleagues wrote to the minister about an affordable housing project for seniors, the minister encouraged them to look to the coinvestment fund for support. On the same date, the minister replied to a letter that I wrote indicating that “the remaining NHCF contribution budget is limited.” The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

When will the government get its story straight and fix the housing crisis?


Soraya Martinez Ferrada (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion (Housing)

Mr. Speaker, our government believes that people deserve a home where they can live in dignity, and we are determined to put an end to chronic homelessness.

However, as my colleague from Vancouver East knows, this is not the easiest thing to do. It is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach.

We therefore welcome the Auditor General's report and agree with the findings and recommendations. At the same time, I want to assure my colleague and, of course, all Canadians that our investments in the fight against homeless are getting results.

By focusing on the most vulnerable groups in Canada, the national housing strategy offers programs that create the type of housing units on the housing continuum that we so desperately need. Many projects that we finance include the comprehensive support services that people need to keep that housing.

Infrastructure Canada is working with other federal organizations to ensure the success of the reaching home homelessness strategy. Thanks to this strategy, we can help communities prevent and reduce homelessness in ways that best meet their needs.

Other national housing strategy programs are producing concrete results too. For example, the national housing co-investment fund committed funds to housing projects that will result in over 121,000 new or repaired units.

My colleague is from Vancouver, so I will mention a few specific projects she is probably familiar with. An eight-story residential housing building is currently under construction on East Hastings. The units are primarily for indigenous individuals, and the building will provide affordable rental housing, supportive housing, a healing centre and a traditional long house space. It was made possible thanks to federal funding and solid collaboration with the province and indigenous partners.

The national housing co-investment fund is also contributing to a new shelter for at-risk youth. This second phase of the Covenant House Vancouver expansion project will also include on-site services for residents.

The rapid housing initiative also meets urgent housing needs for people experiencing homelessness or precarious housing because of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Our government launched the third phase of the initiative on November 10, 2022. This latest phase should see the creation of over 10,450 permanent affordable housing units.

As my colleague from Vancouver East knows, the City of Vancouver received major funding in each phase of the program. For example, we recently celebrated the grand opening of Burnham Place, a 68-unit facility operated by Coast Mental Health that will provide tenants with 24-7 support to help them recover, acquire life skills, study and find work.

Our government's investments are changing things. They are making it possible to create much-needed housing units and offer vulnerable people the support they need to keep their housing and build better lives.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out that, with regard to the housing project that the parliamentary secretary mentions, for example, on East Hastings in my riding, just so the member knows, that project was approved by the city back in 2018. It is now 2023 and likely, probably, maybe next year we will see the project finally deliver housing. It has taken that long to actually get that housing done.

Meanwhile, what is happening in the streets of Vancouver? There is homelessness. We have unbelievable encampments littered throughout our streets, people in desperate need of housing.

When the government wants to congratulate itself, pardon me, but it is not good enough. People are dying on the streets. The programs are not being delivered fast enough. Meanwhile, non-profits are not able to make the projects work, as the inflationary costs increase and the government is changing the requirements and the eligibility criteria to reduce the amount of what they can give to get the project off the ground.

They are failing the community. They are failing Canadians who desperately need a government to show leadership to address the housing crisis.


Soraya Martinez Ferrada (Liberal) Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her intervention. One thing we agree on is that more needs to be done. More needs to be done more quickly and more efficiently.

My colleague and I share the same concern over homelessness. There are camps in my riding as well. I know that everything we are doing through the national housing strategy needs to be done faster and more efficiently. We will be there to help put an end to homelessness across the country.



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