Last week’s federal budget, while not as transformative as last year’s, had important new initiatives related to housing and homelessness.
Here are five things to know:
- New housing investments were announced for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Specifically, last year’s budget announced $600 million over three years for on-reserve housing; $400 million over 10 years for housing in the Inuit regions of Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and Inuvialuit; and $500 million over 10 years for housing for Métis people. In each case, this targeting funding is intended to accompany the respective federal housing strategies for each group, none of which have been released. From an urban perspective – it’s important to remember that, while Indigenous peoples make up just 3% of Calgary’s general population, they make up 20% of Calgary’s homeless population. Several other funding announcements were made for Indigenous peoples, valued at $5 billion over five years. This includes funding for child welfare services, employment and skills training, nursing services in designated First Nations communities, addictions treatment and prevention in First Nations communities, and funding to build administrative and fiscal capacity in First Nations communities.
- This budget announced the further expansion and rebranding of the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB). This is a wage supplement for workers who have a fragile toehold in the labour force. Some readers will recall that the federal government provided a $250 million enhancement to the program in 2016 (to take effect in 2019) in an effort to offset CPP expansion. In the 2017 Fall Economic Statement, the Trudeau government further announced the enhancement of WITB by an additional $500 million annually. This week’s budget announced that, beginning in 2019, this benefit will be known as the Canada Workers Benefit; it will also be more generous. For some workers, this will mean up to an additional $500 annually.
- The budget announced an increase in loans provided via the Rental Constructive Financing Initiative. Over the new three years, the amount of loans available will increase from $2.5 billion to $3.75 billion. According to the budget: “This new funding is intended to support projects that address the needs of modest- and middle-income households struggling in expensive housing markets” (p. 40). The impact of this initiative on homelessness will be indirect at best.
- Canada’s official unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in decades. Since November 2015, it’s gone from 7.1% to 5.9%. This strong labour market performance is good for the respective bottom lines of federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments—not only does it mean more tax revenue each year, it also means some social programs (e.g., social assistance) can be drawn on less.
- Canada’s federal debt-to-GDP ratio remains (by far) the lowest of all G7 countries. While our federal government is projecting annual federal deficits in the $10-$20 billion range for at least the next five years, our federal debt-to-GDP ratio remains by far the lowest of all G7 countries. What’s more, our federal government is projecting a further reduction in our federal debt-to-GDP from 30.4% (2017-18) to 28.4% by 2022-23. This favourable macroeconomic context makes it easier for the federal government to invest in important social programs.
In Sum. From the vantage point of Canada’s affordable housing and homelessness sectors, the good news in this budget is its important new funding announcements for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. This investment was announced in a context of low unemployment and an improving macroeconomic context overall. Going forward, I look forward to seeing further details pertaining to the many important initiatives announced in last fall’s National Housing Strategy.
Nick Falvo is Director of Research and Data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. His area of research is social policy, with a focus on poverty, housing, homelessness and social assistance. Nick has a PhD in public policy from Carleton University. Fluently bilingual, he is a member of the editorial board of the Canadian Review of Social Policy / Revue canadienne de politique sociale.