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The Progressive Economics Forum

Housing Policy Under Harper

Today I gave a presentation on Canadian housing policy at the annual conference of the European Network for Housing Research.  Points raised in the presentation include the following:

-Fiscal context, more so than which party has been in government, appears to have shaped federal housing policy in Canada over the past two decades.  Program expenses by the federal government (as a percentage of GDP) started decreasing steadily beginning in the mid-1990s and then increased steadily during the 2000s (up until the 2009-10 fiscal year).  Federal spending initiatives on housing have generally followed this trend; they were relatively non-existent during the mid- to late-1990s, began again in 2001, and then picked up steam over the course of the ensuing decade.

-Looking back over the past several decades, it is rather clear that the role of the federal government has been crucial in the provision of housing for low-income households.  When the federal government has led on that front, provinces and territories have followed (and housing has been built).  During periods where the federal government has been inactive in funding housing for low-income households, very little housing has been built.

-Canada’s “rate of social renting” (i.e. percentage of households that live in social housing) is significantly lower than in most OECD countries.  For example, the rate in both France and England is more than three times ours, and the rate in both Sweden and the Netherlands is more than six times ours.

-Though spending on housing has been higher under the Harper government than most observers would have ever predicted, it is important to be mindful of the looming issue of “expiring operating agreements.” Indeed, much of Canada’s social housing stock exists because of funding agreements that have been in place for several decades.  Typically, these agreements were to last anywhere from 35 to 50 years, and have involved commitments from senior levels of government to fund operating costs (including the ongoing cost of hydro and maintenance).  With much of Canada’s social housing having been built in the late 1960s, some of these agreements have already begun to expire; and many more agreements are set to expire over the next decade.  The Harper government has been quite silent on what (if anything) it plans to do about this emerging problem.

-Expiring operating agreements will hit Canada’s northern territories especially hard, due largely to the fact that operating costs for housing in northern jurisdictions are higher than in other parts of Canada.

My slide deck for the presentation can be found here and the conference paper (whose first author is Steve Pomeroy) can be found here.  The research is based on a chapter that will appear in the 2013-2014 edition of How Ottawa Spends, to be published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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Comment from Mike
Time: July 30, 2013, 12:24 am

I’m glad that someone is bring attention to the problem of not having enough low income housing available because it’s terrible, not enough is being done to help those that are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Without a doubt the federal government needs to be doing more, all one has to do is take a look at places like Labrador City, Montreal and then in the arctic such as Nunavut, N.W.T just to name a few places, I can go on and on. Winters are very cold and anyone at risk of being homeless is in a very dangerous situation because of the cold. Sometimes I don’t think the government understands the big picture that when you invest more to help the poor it ends up saving money in the end because if someone becomes homeless it’s going to mean getting sick much more often which means more trips to the doctor and often times a poor diet which also leads to poor health and that only ends up adding more to the healthcare system. There should also be some kind of strict rent control on a national level because some places have gone way out of control with sky high rents, just look at Toronto, Labrador City alone where even middle income people are having a hard time keeping up, just think of someone who is poor. You even some areas in the country that don’t even have a shelters for men, what happens to those if they are homeless when winter comes? I think the government can do better than this. Nobody likes being poor and nobody wants to be homeless with no place to call home. More needs to be done to help low income people and protect their human rights.

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