HANSARD: Addressing housing issues, including CMHC, indigenous housing and the lost of affordable housing

House of Commons Hansard #242 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session.
Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings
October 30th, 2023 / 4:55 p.m.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to enter into this debate around the issue of housing, housing affordability and, more to the point, the housing crisis that exists in Canada. From coast to coast to coast it does not matter what community someone is from, whether big or small, there is a housing crisis. Encampments are popping up pretty well everywhere. In my own riding we have the largest encampment in the country. It is effectively a permanent encampment.

We have to think about the issue at hand and see how we can solve the issue. The Conservatives, of course, are peddling the idea that we should continue on with business as usual, that is to say, rely on the market to address the housing crisis. The Conservatives have been turning a blind eye to the fact that the housing crisis, in large part, was caused by their own party when they were in government, when they walked away from supporting communities in building co-op housing and social housing programs. They cut funding severely when they were in government. As a result, we lost a lot of housing units that would otherwise have been built. On top of that we also lost a significant number of units when the private sector came in to purchase existing low-cost apartments.

Colleagues should know that under the Harper administration, with the Conservative leader at the helm and as a part of that cabinet, Canada lost 800,000 units of affordable housing. The Leader of the Opposition earlier had responded to that by asking where the units went and if aliens came and got them. He should know what happened. The rents went up. The rents used to be under $750 per month for those 800,000 units. They were lost because the private sector came in, swooped up those units, jacked up the rents and displaced people. That is what happened and that is, in large part, a cause of the crisis we face with the housing situation. One would think that the Conservatives, if they were thoughtful and truly cared about people, would actually say that is enough and that they will not allow that to happen any more because housing is a basic human right.

We want housing to provide homes for people, not to be used as an investment tool for people to make more and more, bigger and bigger profits at the expense of people who need housing. However, we are not seeing that at all. I think that is because the Conservatives themselves are the biggest gatekeepers of all, gatekeepers for wealthy investors. They want to keep the status quo. I think about 50% of the Conservative caucus, if not more, have real estate interests. That is what they are interested in. They are protecting those very people who can make a profit and helping them to make a greater profit at the expense of the people who need safe, secure, affordable homes.

Now I want to say this about the Liberals as well. They sure as heck are not any better. The Chrétien government actually campaigned in 1993 to end funding cuts in housing, but did they do that after the election? True to form on the part of the Liberals, they campaigned on one thing and then they did another. In 1993, after they formed government what did they do? They actually cancelled the entire national housing strategy. As a result, we lost more housing. In total, I have to say that we lost some 500,000 units of social housing and co-op housing that might otherwise have been built had the programs not been scrapped.

In addition, under the Liberals that we lost another 250,000 units of housing. It was the same situation as when we lost 800,000 units under the Conservatives. Those units, where the rents were $750 or less per month, disappeared and then rents got jacked up. People have been suffering.

It was also the Liberals, by the way, who brought in special tax treatments for real estate investment trusts so that they could actually displace people and jack up rents. That has helped to contribute to this housing crisis.

The Liberals know that, and they continue to allow that to take place.

Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives want to take on the profiteering of housing or say to these wealthy investors, “no more”. Neither of them want to say that the investors have to stop displacing people and that they will not allow for that to happen anymore. The NDP is the only party that is calling for that, and we have been for some time, so that we can preserve and hold on to the affordable housing units for the community.

In fact, what the NDP wants to do and has called on the government to do is ensure that there is an acquisition fund for the non-profit sector and for community trusts, so they can get into the market, buy the housing that comes onto the market and hold it in perpetuity for the community. That is one critical piece of addressing the housing crisis, but the Liberals are not calling for it and not doing it, and neither are the Conservatives. They are beholden to wealthy investors. They are blind to this crisis, where this action is so desperately needed, and they will not take action.

Just for the record, for every one unit that is being built, we lose 15 affordable housing units in this way. We cannot build fast enough to supplement the units. Now, to be sure, what we have to do is build more subsidized social housing and co-op housing. Canada's total social housing stock and co-op housing stock is sitting at 3.5%. Compared to other G7 countries, we are at less than half, and we wonder why we have a housing crisis.

The Conservative leader got up here and called building social housing and co-op housing the “Soviet-style takeover of housing”. Oh my goodness. Should governments build social housing for people who need housing? What a horrible thing.

Quebec is a province that has done very well in ensuring that there is community housing for Quebeckers. Is that a Soviet-style government? I think not. In British Columbia, we had 16 years of Liberals, but really Conservatives, who took government provincially and caused a huge erosion in social housing and co-op housing development in British Columbia, but the NDP pressed on. We are now back in government, and the NDP government is doing everything it can to build social and co-op housing. Even at that, it is only sitting at 6%.

More needs to be done. There is no question about it. The NDP is calling on the Liberal government to invest in social housing and co-op housing like it means to, like it actually wants to address the housing crisis. Right now, we are building about 5,000 or so units of social housing and co-op housing. That is not nearly enough, and we need to increase that number substantially to get housing needs met. In fact, Scotiabank Canada is saying that at the very minimum, to just get into this situation, we need to see 1.3 million units of social housing and co-op housing in Canada. Others housing experts are calling for 20% of the total stock.

This is what the NDP is calling for: We need to see the government increase the numbers to at least meet the Scotiabank number, but I would argue that we need to do much more than that if we want to address the housing crisis. That must be coupled with the need to address the financialization of housing and say “no” to the private sector, whose goal and objective is to make greater profits at the expense of the people who are in greatest need.

I heard the government members talk about the co-op program. They talk as though they love co-ops. They talk as though they are investing in co-ops. Let us just be clear: The NDP did push the government to come back with co-op housing. It did announce in budget 2022 a co-op housing program of 6,000 units. Of course, the government actually took money from another housing initiative to do that. I am just going to set that aside for a minute.

Even with that promise, where are we at? The government has not even signed the agreement with the co-op sector to get the co-ops delivered. That is just still sitting there. It is all talk and no action. Speaking of co-ops, the Liberals say they support co-ops, but guess what? With the GST exemption bill, the government explicitly says co-ops should be excluded from getting the GST exemption. We need to shake our heads and ask what the government has against co-ops. The NDP absolutely intends to put forward an amendment to change the bill so co-ops would be incorporated and included so they could be part of the partnership in addressing the housing crisis.

I want to touch for a minute on the fiasco of what is going on within CMHC. Maybe things will change now; I do not know. Let us hope so. Let me put this on the record. There are so many non-profits that have come to me, as the housing critic, asking for help and for urgent intervention. What has happened is that so many of them made the application under different streams, and the bureaucracy within CMHC is unbelievable. The processing of applications is unbelievable. People need to hire consultants to put in an application. Even if they do, CMHC does not even have the wherewithal to process those applications expeditiously.

In the meantime, what is happening? We are seeing interest rates go up, and they are going up exponentially. By the time the community group actually gets the equity all in place and goes back to CMHC, the interest rates have gone up. CMHC tells the group that interest rates have gone up and then sends the non-profit back to raise more money. This is like an endless treadmill that these groups are on. Is it any wonder projects are dying and cannot get done? They become unviable. One thing the NDP has said to the government is that it needs to be able to provide stability to the non-profit sector. Interest rates need to be held and to not keep jumping up such that the sector can never meet the equity gap. What the government should and must do to address the housing crisis and work in collaboration with the non-profits is to hold the line. It needs to hold interest rates so people know what they are, and they should be below market. The government should not be trying to make money from non-profits. We are partners. In part, yes, the government should provide grants, but it does not all need to be grants and cash up front. It can be done as a combination of both money and a stable but low interest rate for the non-profits so they can get housing developed. This is what we can do. That is how we can get housing done.

I know CMHC will provide loans to non-profits, but it bothers me that it would actually provide mortgage insurance and low-interest rate loans for the private sector with pretty well no return to the community. How is that possible? It is getting a government benefit. It should be made to provide a return back to the community. It does not get a free ride. This needs to end. Yes, we will partner with the private sector, but as long as there is a return back to the community. This is what needs to be done as well. The Liberals will not entertain that, and the Conservatives absolutely would not even consider that, because really they are just a bunch of lackeys for the wealthy investors. That is not how we solve the housing crisis.

I also want to raise the following issue with respect to the housing situation. Right now, indigenous people are at least 11 times more likely to be unhoused. In my own community, the most recent homelessness count done in Metro Vancouver shows that 33% of the people who are unhoused identify as indigenous, even though only fewer than 5% of the overall population are indigenous people in the community. That said, what is wrong with this picture? Generations of colonization have caused this problem. The NDP has called on the government to invest in indigenous housing for Inuit and Métis people as well.

We were able, in budget 2022, to get the government to invest $4 billion over seven years for distinction-based housing, and then it put a minuscule amount of $300 million for urban, rural and northern for indigenous, by indigenous housing, but $300 million is not going to do it. We have called for, and continue to call for, the government to make significant investment in a for indigenous, by indigenous urban, rural and northern housing strategy for Inuit, Métis and indigenous people away from home communities. We did get that in budget 2023. In total, the NDP fought for and received 4.3 billion dollars' worth of investments in a for indigenous, by indigenous urban, rural and northern housing strategy. That sounds like a lot of money, and we are happy we did kick open the door to have that investment made, but is that enough? It is not going to be enough. I hope the government will not rob Peter to pay Paul, because what the government also has to do is partner with provincial and territorial governments in a separate agreement, especially through bilateral agreements, and add dollars to the pot so we can address the housing crisis effectively.

We also need to make sure the Métis nations are supported. I just met with some of their members last week, and they presented a plan that talks about building the infrastructure and housing for Métis people. The government needs to invest in that as well.

The housing crisis has been made by government policies over all these years. There has been underinvestment, walking away from investing in housing, and just passing the buck to local governments, provincial governments and territorial governments. It is not good enough. The government needs to step up and take responsibility. I know that the Prime Minister has said housing is not his responsibility. Let me just say that housing is everybody's responsibility. It is the federal government's responsibility, the provincial and territorial governments' responsibility, and the municipal governments' responsibility, and we need to work in partnership with the private sector, as long as there is a return back to the community, and with the non-profit sector, the faith community and so on.

I also want to raise another issue with respect to housing. It is so important for everyone to understand that the business-as-usual approach is not going to address the housing crisis. The wealthy investors and developers are not going to wake up and decide they are not really interested in maximizing profit. They are not going to do that. That is what happened over 30 years when successive Liberal and Conservative governments relied on that as an approach to addressing the housing crisis. Look at where it got us. The Conservatives want to just blame the Liberals. Do members know what? They are both to blame. Their solutions today are deficient. We need to invest in people and put people before profits. That is how we can address the housing crisis.

Finally, I want to say this: The Conservatives just want to kick municipalities and blame them, when it was the Conservatives who offloaded housing responsibility to local governments without resources and supports in place. They do not get to kick their partners. Yes, they can engage in negotiations with them and talk about the different things they want to achieve. However, blaming local governments is also not the solution. I get it; there are councils that will just say “not in my backyard”. That is not acceptable, and we do need to call that out, but we cannot just say, “Hey, local government, fix this or else.” We are in this together; we need to understand that. It is everyone's responsibility to get the job done.

I know I am running out of time, but I have a few more things I want to add to this debate. Can I get unanimous consent to finish my speech?


The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont
Conservative

The hon. deputy House leader is rising on a point of order.


Mark Gerretsen Kingston and the Islands, ON
Liberal

Mr. Speaker, I just need clarification. The speech finishes at a set time. Does the member mean going to the end of the set time? If so, certainly she would get consent from me.


The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont
Conservative

I will allow the hon. member for Vancouver East to clarify what her request means.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Mr. Speaker, I am talking about going beyond my set time. I am running out of time and I am asking for unanimous consent so I can finish my speech. I just have a couple of points left to finish off.


The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont
Conservative

Is there agreement?


Some hon. members

No.


The Deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont
Conservative

The hon. member for Vancouver East.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Mr. Speaker, then let me close with this. That is enough with the gamesmanship. Let us put people before partisan politics. Let us invest in people. Let us build the social housing. Let us stop the profiteering from housing and say no to investors who are renovicting people and then jacking up the rent.

Let us have the government take responsibility. Housing is not an issue that can be passed off to others. We need to take responsibility. The federal government needs to show leadership, particularly in ensuring that there is a housing plan for international students and for migrants who are here. It is the responsibility of the government to work in partnership with provinces, territories and different entities and agencies. It must not blame newcomers for the housing crisis. There is no one else to blame except the government. It must take responsibility.
https://openparliament.ca/debates/2023/10/30/jenny-kwan-7/

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