COLUMN: Bill C-400 is an opportunity for leadership

Bill C-400, a private member’s bill to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians, will move to a vote at second reading in the House of Commons next Wednesday.

The purpose of the bill is to require the federal government to create a national housing strategy that would ensure the cost of housing in Canada does not compromise an individual’s ability to meet other basic needs, including food, clothing and access to health care services and education, which are all basic human rights.

The push to create a national housing strategy is not new but, to date, efforts to encourage the federal government to do so have not been successful.

Meanwhile, the challenge of housing affordability for many households continues to grow.

A recent report by the city of Coquitlam, the Housing Affordability Discussion Paper, states that between 1991 and 2011, rents and housing prices in Coquitlam rose faster than household incomes. Over these 20 years, median household income increased by 23% while average rent increased 89% and average dwelling value increased 200%.

The discussion paper projects a demand in the next 10 years for 4,000 new “below market” housing units in Coquitlam for higher need households, which would otherwise spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Such households are considered at-risk of homelessness.

The BC Non Profit Housing Association recently predicted that within 25 years, almost 200,000 renter households province-wide — that’s 28% of all renter households — will require some form of assistance to make their housing affordable, an increase of 32% over current demand.

It has long been recognized that a person’s quality of life is largely determined by their housing situation, affecting their health, employment and level of education. Adequate and affordable housing is an essential element for a healthy community and, as such, addressing the affordability gap should be a top priority.

At the same time, housing affordability is a complex and challenging issue, and no single entity has all of the resources and the expertise to resolve it. During the 1970s, the federal government funded the creation of thousands of social housing units each year for low-income households across Canada.

Cutbacks in social housing and related programs began in 1984 and, in 1993, all federal spending on the construction of new social housing was terminated as a deficit-reduction measure.

Given the pressure on the current federal government to once again eliminate the deficit, it is unlikely the federal government is going to dedicate large sums of money to restart a federal housing program.

Measures to address the housing affordability crisis will, thus, need to be spread across all jurisdictions and include a variety of incentives, including capital investment, low-cost financing, tax incentives and regulatory adjustment. Durable solutions will require the collaboration of many partners, including government, the non-profit and private sectors, and First Nations.

Currently, one essential element is missing to pull all of these elements together: federal government leadership.

If Bill C-400 passes second reading on Feb. 27, it will proceed to committee for discussion and amendment. We need this discussion. We need the federal government to establish housing affordability as a priority issue and to bring a broad spectrum of partners together to work collaboratively to resolve it.

What is a more appropriate role for the federal government than to provide the leadership to address a crisis in meeting the basic need for affordable shelter that is being experienced across our nation?

Sandy Burpee of Coquitlam is chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group.



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