20 years ago Canada had a housing plan

Many of you probably did not know that this is an anniversary month. Twenty years ago in January 1994 the federal government cancelled new long-term investments in social housing.   This meant provinces were left to pick up the pieces after the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation faced a budget freeze at $2 billion and no longer built supportive housing.  Not only did this mean that Canada became one of the few developed nations without a national housing strategy, but it also meant that many vulnerable people would be at risk of inadequate housing and homelessness.

According to a press release from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), the decision by the federal government to stop funding new housing units has left a noticeable gap in number of adequate, affordable homes available for low-income people.  “Between 1985 and 1989, the federal government helped fund 5356 units of social housing per year.  If Ottawa had continued to fund social housing at this rate, between 1994 and 2013, some 107,120 homes could have been built.”

ACTO also mentioned a statistic from the Canada Homelessness Research Network that points to 380,000 tenant households living in core housing need (paying  more than 50% of their income on rent).  This is on top of the 200,000 people estimated to be homeless in Canada.

Another housing advocacy group, Defend Our Social Housing, found there was a decrease in federal subsidies in 2010 for 16,500 units (supported housing dropped from 630,000 to 613,500), with another 72,000 units expected to lose funding by 2015.  The funding covers cooperative housing, non-profit, rent-geared to income housing and low-cost housing.  A loss of funding could lead to a rent increase of $200-$300 per month.  While some people or government  members may assume that the subsidies for mortgages of these homes can stop because the original mortgage will be paid, they miss the reality that many buildings have had to remortgage in order to address repairs and increased construction costs. Also,  this organization reminds us that low income people have not seen substantial raises in income compared to rising costs of rents.  This is particularly true for people on social assistance – many of whom have inadequate rent subsidies from provincial governments which have been effectively frozen for a number of years.

The results of lost federal housing funding could mean more people are forced into homelessness or precarious and unhealthy housing situations, which would increase the number of people in core housing need requiring  further help and can also put pressure on the health care system as the connected between adequate housing and health is well established.  (See the Wellesley Institute and Homeless Hub for research on this topic).


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