Housing Advocates Eagerly Await New Federal Strategy
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Housing Advocates Eagerly Await New Federal Strategy

As the Liberals work on their comprehensive housing strategy, poverty advocates and city officials are cautiously impressed.

Two stakeholders in the development of a national housing strategy struck a hopeful tone over the federal government’s consultations thus far—a process that could have important implications in how affordable and social housing is funded and supported in major cities like Toronto.

Leilani Farha, of Canadians Without Poverty, and Sean Gadon, head of the City of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Office, are both optimistic that the federal government is approaching their housing strategy with the correct attitude.

“I believe there is good will here,” said Farha, “and I believe that Minister Duclos [Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development] himself is the kind of minister who really is listening and wants to listen.”

But, she cautioned, planning for the strategy is still in its infancy, and there are also warning signs to heed. Chief among them is what appears to be an over-reliance on the input of established, professionalized groups rather than the people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity and the advocates working directly with them, though Farha said she’s heard there are plans to meet with these groups.

Gadon also spoke highly of Duclos, who attended the City’s September 30 housing summit where a group of mayors from across the country presented a request that the federal government commit $12.6 billion of the $20 billion allocated to social infrastructure to housing. The summit was both a consultation with the public for the City and a part of the federal government’s ongoing series of meetings.

“The fact that the minister was there spoke volumes about the federal government being engaged and listening,” Gadon said.

Housing is an urgent issue for the 235,000 Canadians who experience homelessness each year [PDF] and for the roughly 1.5 million households [PDF] that spend more than one third of their income keeping a roof over their heads (the definition of “core housing need” and a basic metric for affordable housing). Publicly-owned housing isn’t the panacea one might hope for, at least in its current form. As Farha explained, the federal government stepped away from funding public housing in the 1990s, leaving us today with less public housing per capita than existed previously. With that shortage, while increased funding for public housing is necessary, those with the greatest need require immediate solutions in addition to the “medium- to long-term solution” that is public housing, Farha said.

The federal government now moves from the “listening” stage into outlining what they plan to do—and, after that, actually doing it.

Farha’s support for the housing strategy was cautious in part because she fears it fails to account for human rights, which may appear abstract but can have concrete effects on the people in need of housing solutions. But Gadon noted that it appears the federal government is poised to move quickly on housing, which he welcomed.

“It doesn’t appear, frankly, that it will take long, or be drawn out, which is very encouraging,” Gadon said. “The main message that the mayors from across the country delivered to the government and the minister at the summit was that this issue is urgent, requires urgent attention.”

The government is soliciting feedback until October 21, through both consultations and an online survey. It’s expected to release the results of its information-gathering on November 22, National Housing Day.