Canada's Opportunity: Our Blueprint for A National Housing Strategy

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, York University
October 20, 2016

Today,Cover of the report the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness are releasing The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. In this year’s report, we consider how - through the introduction of a National Housing Strategy – we can collectively prevent and end homelessness in Canada.

Since 1993 and the federal disinvestment in housing, more and more people have found themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness. Despite this, Canada is the only G8 country without a national strategy on homelessness. It is then not surprising that stakeholders across the country were encouraged by the announcement that the Government of Canada has committed to a National Housing Strategy.

The National Housing Strategy – with a clear priority on ending homelessness and a funding commitment to do so – presents us with an unprecedented and overdue opportunity to make progress towards ending homelessness.

The federal government is undergoing consultations until October 21, 2016 through letstalkhousing.ca and will release the results on November 22, 2016 (National Housing Day). The State of Homelessness 2016 provides a roadmap for the way forward. It includes joint recommendations, authored by the COH and CAEH, on how the National Housing Strategy can serve as a catalyst for better, more suitable solutions to preventing and ending homelessness.

Preventing and ending homelessness

In the last few years, many have started to recognize that housing is a human right. To embrace a human rights approach, we must make a more concerted effort to ensure that wherever possible homelessness is prevented. If we cannot prevent it, we must ensure that occurrences of homelessness are brief and non-recurring. This must be at the core of our National Housing Strategy.

Encouragingly, we have solutions at our disposable to address the latter. Housing First has proven to move people out of homelessness quickly, while providing the supports they need to stay housed. A National Housing Strategy, as we’ve recommended, should embrace, invest and scale this model of accommodation.

Unfortunately, preventing homelessness is something Canada has made less progress on. However, as discussed in our recent blog post, Let’s Talk Housing & Prevention, that is beginning to change. We ask that in addition to prioritizing Housing First, the government of Canada embrace a homelessness prevention framework.

Fortunately, we can learn from the communities, provinces and territories that are making progress. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador are leading the way provincially. Locally, Medicine Hat is on the cusp of ending homelessness and Hamilton is showing huge success with Housing First. However, we need long-term, stable funding if we want these successes to grow. That’s where the National Housing Strategy comes in.

Recommendations

Our report outlines eight key recommendations for the National Housing Strategy. We are calling on the government to invest $43.788 billion over 10 years through the National Housing Strategy – only $50 more per Canadian annually than we’re currently spending. For less than $1 per week per person, in added investment, we can effectively prevent and end homelessness in Canada.

The following recommendations focus on two areas: addressing homelessness and expanding the supply of affordable housing. 

Addressing Homelessness in Canada

Recommendation 1.1Recommendation #1: The government should adopt a national goal of ending homelessness with clear and measurable outcomes, milestones and criteria

There should be a commitment to ending homelessness at the national level that includes an emphasis on Housing First, a focus on prevention, and an effort to improve how different local systems coordinate with one another, among other principles.

Recommendation 1.2Recommendation #2: Renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy

The Homelessness Partnering Strategy funds 61 communities across Canada to develop local solutions to preventing and ending homelessness. The Homelessness Partnering Strategy should be renewed in 2019 for ten years with substantial and long-term funding to ensure consistency and stability for programs working to prevent and end homelessness.

Recommendation 1.3Recommendation #3: A new federal/provincial/territorial framework agreement that defines local leadership on homelessness and housing investment

All orders of government have a responsibility to prevent and end homelessness. The National Housing Strategy should include a framework that clearly identifies the roles and responsibilities that each actor should play in the collective effort to prevent and end homelessness.

Recommendation 1.4Recommendation #4: Targeted strategies to address the needs of priority populations

In order to respond to the unique needs of different groups of people experiencing homelessness, the National Housing Strategy should adopt tailored, evidence-based solutions for groups such as youth, Indigenous Peoples and veterans.

Addressing Affordable Housing in Canada

Recommendation 2.1Recommendation #5: Retain and expand existing affordable housing stock

We need to make up for the loss of affordable housing that began in 1993. This means keeping the affordable housing units we do have and building new ones through a variety of innovative means.

Recommendation 2.2Recommendation #6: Implement a National Housing Benefit

Like the child tax benefit, a national housing benefit would give low income Canadians a monthly tax credit that would help keep people housed, thus preventing homelessness.

Recommendation 2.3Recommendation #7: Affordable housing tax credit

An affordable housing tax credit will give private equity investors reductions in federal income tax for dollars invested in affordable housing projects.

Recommendation 2.4Recommendation #8: Review and expand investment in affordable housing for Indigenous peoples

We need an audit of the housing situation on reserve so that we know where we’re at. With that information in hand, programs like an Indigenous Innovation Demonstration Fund can be used to find solutions to the housing challenges Indigenous Peoples face on and off reserve.

For further information on our report, including more detailed recommendations, you can download the State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. If you have not yet submitted your feedback on the proposed National Housing Strategy, we encourage you to do so at letstalkhousing.ca, prior to tomorrow’s deadline.

Remember, we can end homelessness in Canada – if we want to.

Erin Dej is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, York University. She received her doctorate in Criminology from the University of Ottawa. Her area of research includes homelessness, mental health, and autonomy among homeless men and women. She has also conducted research projects on the legislative shifts to the not criminally responsible designation, and the medicalization/ criminalization /racialization of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Dr. Dej has taught in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, as well as in the Department of Law and Legal Studies and at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University. Dr. Dej teaches in the areas of punishment, law, criminology, and mental health.

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