We were very happy to hear all of the local candidates talk about affordable housing & homelessness at the all candidates forum hosted by the Human Development Council, but we wanted to follow up and reiterate the importance of these issues. There is a dire need for more affordable housing in Saint John. We need immediate action, as well as federal leadership and investment. You can read the letter we sent to candidates below.
As a candidate for parliament in the upcoming federal election, you are no doubt concerned with issues of critical importance to all Canadians. Our current affordable housing crisis and the fact that 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night are two of these issues. Not only are they issues for these Canadians in urgent need, but they are issues that affect the wider society and economy. As Toronto Mayor John Tory pointed out, cities are the economic engines of our country, and a lack of affordable housing affects the ability of cities to create and maintain jobs. We have to get serious about solving the affordable housing crisis in our city and our country. The Community Council on Homelessness (CCH) is a group of non-profit and government agencies working together to end homelessness in Saint John.
Chronic underinvestment in affordable housing is evident on the streets of our nation, made visible by the growing number of homeless men, women and, tragically, children and youth. Currently, there are more than 6,000 people on the N.B. Housing waiting list. The Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement will create 300 new units of affordable housing in the entire province of New Brunswick; the expiry of existing operating agreements means that funding for 1,214 units in the Saint John-Rothesay riding will be expiring, creating significant viability challenges for 800 of those units—and that is only in one of the province’s 10 ridings. According to the New Brunswick Non-Profit Housing Association, for every dollar coming into the province through the Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement, an estimated $2.20 worth of federal investment will be lost because of the expiry of operating agreements. More investment is needed.
An investment in affordable housing is an investment in the economy, in the environment and in the neighbourhoods that nurture future generations. For low-income Canadians, investment in affordable housing is an investment in their health, education, productivity and independence, but it goes beyond the individual. Investment in housing is an important investment in the economy. The housing sector is a major employer; investment can positively affect labour markets, increase productivity, increase economic participation, and support overall economic growth. Because other G7 countries have realized this, they all have national housing strategies that make sufficient affordable housing investments to match the nature and scale of their housing challenges. All Canadians will benefit when Canada does the same.
While we were encouraged by the attention affordable housing and homelessness were given by all four local candidates that participated in the Human Development Council’s all candidates Forum, our committee is eager to see substantive action. The CCH supports the six recommendations put forth by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (see attached PDF for further details):
- Develop a new federal, provincial and territorial affordable housing framework agreement
- Target investments towards chronically and episodically homeless people
- Invest directly in affordable housing programs
- Implement a housing benefit – a new program to assist those who face a severe affordability problem in their current accommodation
- Create an affordable housing tax credit
- Review and expand investment in Aboriginal housing both on and off reserve
We would like to highlight that we join the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness in urging the federal government to develop a new federal, provincial and territorial affordable housing framework agreement. Canada will have great difficulty ending homelessness without developing a housing strategy; it is the only G7 country without one.
Of course, all such strategies should allow communities to tailor their responses to local contexts; a national strategy would enable communities to do so—not hinder them—by encouraging collaboration between communities, fostering engagement by all levels of government, and providing a framework for addressing the crosscutting issues affecting all communities as they try to address homelessness. As the executive summary of our National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure explains:
“To be effective, the National Strategy must be implemented in partnership among all levels of government… The National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure represents the first milestone in the road ahead. It identifies a clear set of goals and objectives and outlines the guiding principles that will underpin our efforts to strengthen the resiliency of critical infrastructure. The National Strategy establishes a framework for cooperation”
Ending homelessness and addressing our country’s affordable housing crisis are not small tasks; they will require significant investments of fiscal and human resources, and cooperation between all three levels of government, the private, public, and non-profit sectors, academic institutions, and civil society at large. The critical work of ensuring that all Canadians, including those in Greater Saint John, have access to adequate and affordable housing, must be supported by a national framework; it is the foundation for a prosperous economic future.
The CCH asks you and your party to commit to make housing all Canadians a policy and investment priority should you be elected. By adopting the strategy outlined above, together we can again make Canada the international model of housing and neighbourhood renewal it once was.
Thank you for your consideration of these important issues.