Election Day is soon and issues related to housing have not been prominent. That oversight is unfortunate. While housing is a provincial responsibility, all levels of government need to work in partnership to maintain the existing social housing and to create new affordable rental housing.
There are also some trends that are worth discussing, regardless of who wins the election. Very little social housing has been built in the country for the last few decades. Federal funding under the federal-provincial agreements for social housing is scheduled to decline to zero by 2040. (Other levels of government cannot be expected to step in to replace this funding of approximately $1.7B per year, currently.) The housing providers who receive these funds cannot continue to operate rent-geared-to-income for the thousands of beneficiaries, let alone invest in capital improvements, such as improving energy efficiency.
For many reasons, the private sector has built little rental housing recently. In order to change this, funds from the federal and other levels of government are required. The federal-provincial Affordable Housing Program shows that various levels of government can work together to produce rental stock, but the number of units produced under this program is minor relative to the need.
So, what are the major parties promising in this election?
The Green Party announced a housing platform first. They plan to:
- Develop and implement a National Affordable Housing Plan with an annual required rate of building affordable housing;
- Make CMHC responsible for affordable, non-market, and co-operative housing;
- Provide sufficient funds annually through CMHC to community-based agencies across Canada to:
- Ensure that, annually, 20 000 new subsidized units are built and 10 000 affordable units are rehabilitated for the next ten years using grants and changes in tax and mortgage insurance regulations;
- Provide rent supplements for an additional 40 000 low-income households per year, for ten years;
- Offer income tax cuts for affordable housing.
The Conservative’s platform concentrates on helping first time home buyers by, for example,
- Expanding the Home Buyers’ Plan from $25,000 to $35,000 so first-time home buyers can withdraw savings tax-free from their RRSP accounts
- Establishing a Renovation Tax Credit for home renovation expenses between $1,000 and $5,000
- Their platform does not discuss affordable rental housing.
The Liberals announced a $20B 10 year infrastructure program, which includes investment in affordable housing and seniors’ facilities. Other initiatives include:
- Renewing the social housing operating agreements set to expire and continue with housing first initiatives to help house the homeless
- Eliminating GST on investment in new affordable rental housing to encourage construction
- Directing CMHC and the new Canada Infrastructure Bank to provide financing for developers of affordable rental housing
The NDP plan several initiatives related to affordable housing:
- Introducing a green home energy program to help retrofit at least 50,000 homes and apartment buildings to make them more energy efficient.
- A National Housing Strategy that will:
- restore federal government funding of social housing and co-ops, reinvest funding from expiring agreements back into operating agreements, repairs and the construction of new units
- boost funding for homelessness initiatives.
- require that any redevelopment of federal lands include affordable housing and housing cooperatives.
- Require CMHC to provide grants and loans to construct at least 10,000 affordable and market rental units.