HANSARD: Jenny calls for upcoming federal budget to provide real investments into affordable housing and finally tackle the housing crisis.

House of Commons Debate
Adjournment Proceedings
March 20th, 2023 / 6:25 p.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, on November 22, 2022, I asked the Liberal government if it would finally stop treating housing like a stock market and ensure every Canadian has access to safe, affordable and adequate housing as a basic human right. The Liberals talk a good game when it comes to solving the housing crisis, but they have failed to act. Costs remain out of control and the homelessness crisis continues to worsen as wealthy financial landlords line their pockets.

In Vancouver, the average one-bedroom apartment now costs $2,640 per month. The CBC recently reported that one needs to earn $109,000 a year in Vancouver to afford a one-bedroom rental unit. This is simply outrageous. However, it is not just people in big cities feeling the squeeze. Vacancy rates are dropping to all-time lows across the country. For example, in Prince Edward Island, the vacancy rate for bachelor apartments has fallen to zero. As more Canadians are struggling to find a place they can call home, the Liberal government is expecting Canadians to accept less when it must be doing more to tackle the crisis.

We desperately need more affordable housing, but the national housing strategy is missing the mark. The Auditor General's report released in November revealed that programs such as the national co-investment fund are failing to deliver affordable housing. I have heard from housing providers, community non-profit organizations and advocates that this flawed program desperately needs to be fixed. 

The Auditor General's report revealed that the government spent billions developing unaffordable housing. The co-investment used an affordability measure tied to 80% of average market rent, resulting in housing that is unaffordable for many Canadians. Meanwhile, 115,000 units have received funding commitments through the fund, yet no money has flowed to the non-profits for this program. CMHC says the funding cannot be given to the non-profits until construction begins. This is yet another bureaucratic barrier for the non-profits trying to deliver affordable housing. 

As projects sit on the shelf collecting dust, recent changes to the co-investment fund implemented by the government are jeopardizing affordable housing projects. Rising construction costs due to inflation and higher interest rates are adding to the financial burden of the non-profits. Rather than helping the non-profits in these challenging times, the government has reduced the funding available through the co-investment fund by implementing a $25,000–per–unit cap on nonrepayable grant dollars. Prior to this change, organizations were eligible for up to 40% of total project costs. This is a huge cut for the non-profits, which will now need to find money elsewhere or, worse, abandon projects. 

People say that projects go to CMHC to die. Sadly, the government is only proving this point. Community organizations are being told the fund has been depleted and will now have nowhere to turn for money. Non-profits intending to rely on the program were informed of the changes at the last minute, leaving them with gaps in funding and putting their projects at risk. It is unacceptable.

The upcoming federal budget next week is an opportunity for the government to provide real investments into affordable housing and finally tackle the housing crisis. The government should do away with the $25,000 limitation. It should not let these projects die that are desperately needed in our community. It should not let the efforts of the non-profits, which have been working so hard to provide housing, fail.

The ball is in the government's court.

Terry Duguid Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Madam Speaker, the question by my colleague from Vancouver Eastshows that we share a concern that people across this country still face challenges when it comes to housing affordability and homelessness.

Our government always welcomes input from across the way, across the housing sector and across the country on how to solve this complex problem. I would say it can only be solved through deep collaboration, and that is the approach we are taking. Our $82-billion national housing strategy, the first of its kind in Canadian history, is built around partnership. We are not talking a good game. This is real action, and even more fundamentally, it is built on a rights-based approach to housing and an acknowledgement that everyone in Canada deserves a suitable home they can afford.

With this in mind, it prioritizes people made most vulnerable to housing need, and it is yielding real results. For example, the rapid housing initiative, one of the strategy's programs, specifically targets those most in need through the rapid creation of housing units. More than 2,500 homes for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of it have been built or are being built with funds from this initiative. These are 2,500 homes for people who need them when they need them most, and many of them are being built in my home community of Winnipeg. 

People like those who will stay in the new 20-unit building operated by Lookout Housing and Health Society in my colleague's riding of Vancouver East are benefiting. This is being built now with funding from the rapid housing initiative. Then there is the 24-unit facility, also in my colleague's riding, operated by Lu'ma Native Housing Society, which is providing supportive housing for indigenous residents. These are just a couple of examples from one program. They are repeated across the country and across the range of programs being delivered under the strategy. 

These are concrete results we are proud of, and they serve to reveal the size of the problem and the fact that we still need to do more, as the hon. member has suggested. We are doing more. Our current budget includes a combination of new ideas and expansions of past successes, all supported by significant investments. We are approaching the issue of housing affordability from every angle that will have an impact, and in collaborating with partners across the housing system, we are finding new angles every day.

I thank my colleague for continuing to share our concern for housing affordability in this country.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association is calling for an additional $4 billion per year over two years in the national housing co-investment fund. The funds must be used to build truly affordable housing, targeting core need, with rents no more than 30% of total income. The government must inject additional dollars into the program and lift the arbitrary $25,000-per-unit cap on grants. We cannot afford to keep letting projects die at CMHC. The government needs to fix the co-investment fund and finally get to work on tackling this crisis. 

The parliamentary secretary mentioned projects in my riding. Yes, a few projects did get through and I am glad for that, but I invite the parliamentary secretary to visit my riding to see the homeless encampments in the community and the number of people who are homeless and unhoused in the community. Those units are good but deficient, and more needs to be done; there is no question. 

The government needs to fix the co-investment fund and get the funding in place for people who need a place to call home.

Terry Duguid Winnipeg South, MB

Madam Speaker, our government has prioritized housing affordability throughout our mandate. It is why we launched the historic national housing strategy and why, in subsequent legislation, we enshrined housing as a human right. We continue to make housing a priority. We have enacted programs to help people from across the spectrum of housing need, always prioritizing those who are most vulnerable.

I would be very happy to visit the hon. member's riding. I have been to Vancouver Eastbefore, and I know there is great housing need there. We need to work together on all sides of the House to address that need.

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