Hill Times: Why Canada must protect the existing affordable housing stock

OPINION | BY NDP MP JENNY KWAN | January 31, 2024
Affordable housing across Canada is being lost at a seriously alarming rate; not to alien abduction, as the leader of the official opposition sarcastically wondered, but to housing profiteers who care most about their bottom line. These investor-landlords are looking to maximize their profits by buying older rental apartments and often displacing long-time tenants by renovicting or demo-evicting them to jack up rents.

Housing expert Steve Pomeroy has said that Canada lost more than 550,000 units of affordable housing between 2011 and 2021, which represents a loss of 11 units for each new affordable housing unit built. In cities like Vancouver and Toronto, the rate is even more drastic. Worse yet, Winnipeg and Hamilton, Ont., are losing 29 units of affordable housing for each new one. When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were in power (with Pierre Poilievre at the table), 800,000 affordable homes were lost as corporate landlords bought in bulk while renovicting or demo-evicting low-income tenants, and the Affordable Housing Initiative was axed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have lost another 276,000 affordable homes to developers.

Why Canada must protect the existing affordable housing stock
Canada has among the lowest community housing stock of all G7 countries, yet the Liberals’ National Housing Strategy aims to create a mere 5,000 community housing units per year.


OPINION | BY NDP MP JENNY KWAN | January 31, 2024


For more than three decades, successive Liberal and Conservative governments relied primarily on the private market to provide housing that people in the community need. This colossal failure has led us to Canada’s current housing crisis.  

Right now, Canada has among the lowest community housing stock of all G7 countries, yet the Liberals’ National Housing Strategy aims to create a mere 5,000 community housing units per year. This woefully inadequate target is completely out of touch with reality and crushes any possibility of meaningfully addressing the housing crisis. 

Meanwhile, a broad spectrum of voices has come together to call on the Liberals to at least double Canada’s community housing stock. One key initiative that the Liberals must act on is to invest in a national acquisition program that would increase community housing while protecting the vanishing affordable rental supply. The federal housing advocate, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, national housing groups, and even the House Human Resources, Skills, and Social Development Committee have been calling for a non-profit acquisition fund as a key strategy.

As people get priced out of the market, homeless encampments grow across the country, and shelters are beyond capacity. Urgent action is needed now more than ever.   

Communities from coast to coast to coast are desperate for real leadership. The Liberals can start with enhancing effective existing programs by investing annually in the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI), injecting resources for grants to the co-investment program, and refocusing their housing strategy with real affordability as a must.

The creation of an acquisition fund that gives land trusts, co-operatives, and non-profit housing providers the financial backing they need to compete in the private market is equally urgent. The fact that the 2023 fall economic statement failed to acknowledge this—despite the NDP’s call to action—reflects how out of touch the Liberals are.

Make no mistake: an acquisition program will prevent predatory investors and corporate landlords from intensifying homelessness through displacing people to maximize profit. To protect existing low-cost housing is to protect inclusivity, equity, and justice in our communities. 

Numerous other countries, as well as Canadian cities and provinces, have already created acquisition programs to preserve existing affordable housing and keep rents low. The Liberals should support and incentivize the provinces and territories with matching funds.

It is time for the Liberals to implement the NDP’s proposal for a non-profit acquisition fund, make the RHI a long-term annual program, commit to at least doubling Canada’s community housing stock, and put affordability front and centre.

Beyond good social policy, investing in affordable housing is not just a responsible economic policy, but a necessary one. A report from last November entitled The Impact of Community Housing on Productivity finds that increasing the community housing stock by just 1.5 per cent would contribute as much as an additional $136-billion to Canada’s GDP. The Bank of Canada governor has also said investing directly in housing is not only anti-inflationary spending, but could also even lower inflation.

Canadians need the federal government to: a) ensure housing is treated as a basic human right and not a commodity; b) stop the loss of existing affordable housing; c) invest in the development of new community housing; and d) protect renters from reno/demo-evictions and out-of-control rent hikes.

Jenny Kwan is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, B.C., and the NDP critic for housing and immigration.


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