Federal policy makers in Canada can take an important housing policy lesson fromt he 2007-2008 United States sub-prime mortgage crisis: the aggressive promotion of homeownership as a one-size-fits-all solution to housing need is not in fact a solution at all. And for the 1.5 million households in core housing need in Canada, growth in the supply of private rental market housing cannot be relied on to provide a housing solution either, as the market cannot deliver housing at rents lower-income Canadians can afford.
New non-market housing options, such as non-profit housing co-operatives, must therefore form an integral part of any policy that seeks to reduce housing need in Canada. Demand-side solutions such as rent supplement programs have a role to play but an increase in the supply of affordable housing is essential to any comprehensive housing strategy for Canada.
The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada) and its 900 member co-ops have welcomed the important housing investments announced by the federal government in September 2008 and then again in 2009 as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan. These investments have permitted the renewal of federal-provincial-territorial affordable housing supply agreements and have provided much-needed assistance for the improvement of Canada’s aging social housing stock through renovations and energy retrofits. These measures offer hope for those in housing need in Canada while stimulating our nation’s economy through the creation of construction jobs in communities across the country.
Parliamentarians have an opportunity to build on the admirable initiatives that have been developed at the federal level, and without increasing current spending commitments. CHF Canada makes the following recommendations for policy consideration in the 2010 federal budget.
The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada proposes that the federal government:
1. provide repayable loans for affordable housing repair and new affordable housing development through CMHC’s Direct Lending Program. There is no cost to government to making the necessary policy changes to facilitate this borrowing, which will build on the construction jobs that are being created under Canada’s Economic Action Plan;
2. develop a plan to protect the affordability of the existing stock of federally sponsored affordable housing through the creation of a successor subsidy program as current funding agreements expire, by maintaining housing appropriations at current levels;
3. ensure full and transparent accountability for federal housing transfers to the provinces and territories by linking federal housing spending to reductions in core housing need. This policy outcome would be realized through the creation of an accountability framework, agreed to with the provinces and territories, which sets out targets to ensure that reductions in core housing need take place in every region across Canada. New non-profit co-op development needs to be a key component of the above-noted framework.
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