Federal Budget 2017: When They Substitute Social Housing with Affordable Housing

Last month’s 2017 Federal Budget contains some good news for fans of housing rights. Despite this, the the new pan-Canadian National Housing Strategy (as yet unreleased) may risk excluding our most vulnerable citizens (women, racialized communities, seniors, etc.) by refusing to recognize that housing is a basic human right and needs to be part any comprehensive housing policy.

Minister Bill Morneau actually did mention housing rights in his address on March 22nd, something that is unheard of in the House of Commons from a ruling government, let alone a Liberal Finance Minister. Standing at his desk, he declared a “National Housing Strategy to protect every Canadian’s right to a safe and affordable place to call home.”

At the risk of indulging my own paranoia, though, there is something fishy about the fact that Morneau specifically mentioned the word “RIGHT” in English but that this was nowhere to be found in the official Hansard version in French. Make of this what you will. I hope it’s simply a translation error but…

The budget also offered a very promising sum ($11 billion) over 11 years for the National Housing Strategy and renovations and repairs required by affordable housing stocks. That may seem like a huge number, but it should be kept in mind that this figure will be divided into several federal/provincial/territorial programs, and only for as long as the Liberal government stays in power.

11 years is an eternity in federal politics. Further, almost half of that amount ($5 billion) will be going to a new national fund for housing, managed by the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Society, and they have yet to announce how that money will be spent.

Despite the crisis, no money was set aside for the development of new social housing stocks.

Quebec will receive a part of the $3.2 billion allocated for services related to housing. At the same time, between 2019-2020, only $255 million will be provided annually to the provinces.

Aside from these investments related to the National Strategy on Housing, the federal government foresees other sums that touch the housing crisis. Notably, they are re-investing in the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which had been cut under the previous government. This money will finance life-saving frontline services that help sustain people living on the streets every day.

The government will be investing a further $101 million in the national strategy against gender based and sexual violence, something that will likely help the many organizations that offer refuge and other forms of housing to women who are victims of violence.

Ultimately, we will have to wait for the unveiling of the National Housing Strategy later this year to see how and if the promises made by the Trudeau government in housing will be implemented. It’s only then that we will know how the $5 billion, reserved for the National Housing Fund, will be spent. We will also see whether the government’s talk of the right to housing is merely words, or whether it will be a central part of the government’s national action plan for housing.

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