HANSARD: Jenny urges the government to act towards solving the homelessness crisis

House of Commons Debate
Adjournment Proceedings
November 16th, 2022 / 6:55 p.m.


Jenny Kwan  (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, with record inflation fuelled by corporate greed, finding safe, affordable and adequate housing has become out of reach for many Canadians. New Democrats have been calling on the Liberals to invest in affordable housing and to stop the profiteering of corporate landlords, but unsurprisingly, the Liberals are tone deaf to the realities of everyday Canadians.

Successive governments, Conservative and Liberal, have made deep cuts to social and co-op housing and have allowed the cost of housing to increase. Under the Harper government, the cost of buying a home increased by 77%, and under the Liberal government, it has gone up another $300,000. The average rent in Canada now is over $2,000 a month. One in five Canadians puts more than 30% of their total income towards their housing cost. Families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table.

When the Liberals cancelled the national affordable housing strategy in 1993, Canada lost more than 500,000 units of social and co-op housing that would otherwise have been built. Now, nearly three decades later, both the Liberals and the Conservatives allow investors to treat housing like a stock market, driving up rents and home prices.

The NDP knows that to address the housing crisis, we have to stop the financialization of housing and we need to meaningfully develop social housing and co-op housing units. Housing advocates are calling for the development of at least 300,000 units of core need housing. We need social housing; we need supportive housing, and co-op is a proven model that works. In fact, rents in co-op housing are $400 to $500 less per month compared to private market rental units.

The Liberals like to talk about their so-called record investments in affordable housing, but the Auditor General's report released yesterday exposed that the government is failing to address the dire homelessness and housing crisis. The Liberals have spent billions to build homes that Canadians cannot afford. What is worse is they do not even know if chronic homelessness has increased or decreased since 2019. They have no idea who is benefiting from their housing initiatives.

The National Housing Strategy Act, passed in 2019, enshrined a human rights based approach to housing under the law. It commits the government to reducing homelessness and to focusing on improving housing outcomes for vulnerable groups and those with the greatest need, yet three years later, Canada's housing crisis is getting worse. The Liberals have spent billions to develop housing that is not affordable for those in need.

The national housing co-investment fund is a program meant to deliver rental housing units at below 30% of one's total income. It was a program meant for low-income households, many of whom are among the most vulnerable, but instead of delivering that, the Liberals changed the affordability criteria to 80% of median market rent. Consequently, low-income and vulnerable people cannot access this housing because it is not affordable. In fact, the housing developed under this program is failing low-income families in seven provinces and territories. At this rate, the Liberals are on track to miss their own target of reducing chronic homelessness by 50% by 2028.

The Liberals' incompetence is shocking. The fallout is deadly. In B.C. alone, there were 247 deaths among individuals experiencing homelessness in 2021, a 75% increase since 2020. In Vancouver East, a large-scale homeless encampment is now a permanent fixture and individual homeless tents are proliferating on the streets—


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Carol Hughes (NDP)

I am sorry, but the member's time is up. She will be able to continue during her next intervention.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development.


Arif Virani (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Vancouver East for her consistently advocacy on this very pressing issue.

There is no that doubt housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues in the country right now, especially for the most vulnerable, as she articulated. Everyone needs and everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. There is no space between our position and the position of the member opposite on that front.

What I will take issue with is some of the points she made with respect to social and co-op housing. We know that we made a significant investment of $1.5 billion in the last budget, committing to building more units. We talked about historic investments in co-operative housing. I believe the member opposite is fully aware that the Minister of Finance herself grew up in co-operative housing and is deeply committed to expanding the supply of such housing.

This housing includes our commitments to the rapid housing initiative. We announced the details last week, with an expansion of the RHI. That program has consistently exceeded its targets since we introduced it in the early days of the pandemic. It has quickly yielded more than 10,000 new units for people who need them the most. When we talk about people who need it the most, we are talking about initiatives that are focused on women, racialized persons, marginalized persons, indigenous persons and seniors. Those are important objectives to address the vulnerabilities that have been highlighted by the member opposite.

These new steps to boost housing affordability are critical, and we intend to continue in this vein. The 2022 budget reallocated $500 million of funding to launch a new co-operative housing development program, as I mentioned, which is about expanding co-op housing. That includes $1 billion in loans to support co-op housing projects. That is the largest investment in co-op housing for more than 30 years. There is, again, no disparity between the position of the government and the position of the NDP on this particular issue. This investment alone will yield 6,000 new units.

All this activity is building on our efforts and our successes in the housing sector thus far. It is clear there is a housing crisis. We saw that when we were first elected in 2015. We immediately took steps to prioritize housing. We have since created and repaired 440,000 homes. We have taken historic steps to ensure that everyone in this country has a place to call home. That includes people across the spectrum of housing need.

I could give some examples. There is Canadian Forces veteran Bill Beaton, who went from being homeless to living in Veterans' House, a supportive housing facility constructed with funding from the national housing co-investment fund. There is Lianne Leger, a recent university graduate, who was able to make a home for herself in Whitehorse, thanks to the first time home buyer's incentive. There are also the residents of Co:Here housing community, which is in the member opposite's own riding of Vancouver East. That is a 26-unit affordable housing building created through the Government of Canada's bilateral housing agreement with the province.

I want to thank my colleague and her party for her concern about housing affordability in Canada, and point to these significant actions.


Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would invite the member to actually read the report that the Auditor General just released yesterday. It is entitled “ Report 5—Chronic Homelessness”.

The situation is that the government does not know what is going on, and it does not even know if it is meeting the needs of those who are homeless. This is from the Auditor General. The Auditor General also indicated that the government is not going to meet its own targets. This is not just me talking. This is the reality from the Auditor General, who is bringing this issue to the government's attention.

We are approaching another cold, wet season. It just snowed outside in Ottawa. It snowed in Vancouver last week. There have been enough excuses and enough talking points. People are dying on the streets. Housing is a basic human right. Let us get on with it. The Liberal government needs to do its job and build the housing to house people so they can have a roof over their head and safe place to call home.


Arif Virani (Liberal) Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to pick up on something the member just mentioned, and she mentioned it in her first intervention as well.

When we enacted the legislation that furthers the national housing strategy two Parliaments ago, in the 42nd Parliament, we enshrined housing as a human right. Again, that is a critical component of our government's prioritization of housing. Also, there is agreement on the idea of removing profiteering from the housing sector and stopping the treatment of it as a commodity.

The Auditor General's report is an important report, as is the initiative we have taken to end homelessness and set targets. Meeting those targets is a priority for our government. We will review that report and respond to it accordingly. We have continued to prioritize housing throughout our mandate. We have a plan to keep it that way. We expanded the rapid housing initiative because we believe a safe and affordable place to call home is the right of every Canadian.



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