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The federal government cut all spending on new social housing (nonprofit and co-op homes) in 1993. With no new affordable housing, it's no surprise that eight years later, Canada is facing a nationwide homelessness disaster and housing crisis.
During the recent election, the Liberals promised to restore $170 million in federal housing spending to create up to 30,000 new homes every year for four years. Three of the four other national political parties also support new housing funding. They are the Bloc Quebe‡ois, New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives.
We're glad that politicians have started to talk about restoring housing funding. Now we need action - no later than the next federal budget, which is expected in February. The National Housing and Homelessness Network is calling on Ottawa to commit about $2 billion in new spending on housing and related services every year.
We call this the One Percent Solution. We are asking you to join in our national campaign. Help us to deliver a clear message to Ottawa: "We want real money for a real national housing strategy".
1. Housing and homelessness: a snapshot Every year, 200,000 or more Canadians experience homelessness. Not just in big cities, but also small towns, rural and remote areas. Aboriginal people face high levels of homelessness.
The fastest growing group of homeless are families and children. In 1998, the Big City Mayor's Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities declared that homelessness is a National Disaster, at the urging of housing advocates.
Homelessness is the visible tip of an even bigger problem: a nationwide housing crisis. The latest federal figures show that about 1.7 million poor households are on the brink of homelessness. That's more than 4.5 million women, men and children who are just one short step away from the street.
In most parts of the country, they face two hurdles: supply and affordability. Not enough housing and housing that is too expensive. For more information on homelessness and housing, log onto the "resources" library of the Housing Again Web site at www.housingagain.web.net.
2. Restore funding for a national housing strategy In 1973, the federal government launched a national housing strategy. "Good housing at reasonable cost is a social right of every citizen of this country... This must be our objective, our obligation, and our goal," said Ottawa.
In the early 1980s, the federal government was funding up to 30,000 new homes every year. But Ottawa stopped all funding for new affordable housing in 1993. Canada's national housing strategy from 1973 to 1993 was very successful. Ottawa, in partnership with community-based, nonprofit and co-op housing providers, built hundreds of thousands of good quality, affordable housing units that continue to provide good homes to this day.
In 1996, the federal government announced plans to transfer existing federal housing programs to the provinces and territories. Housing co-ops fought, and won, their fight to remain at the federal level. McGill Professor Jeanne M. Wolfe, in an 1998 article in the international housing journal, Housing Studies, wrote: "However, it is only in Canada that the national government has, except for CMHC loans, withdrawn from the social housing field.
The rush to get out of the responsibility for managing existing projects and building new, low-income housing has taken advocates by surprise. It was never imagined that a system that had taken 50 years to buildup could be dismantled so rapidly. Social housing policy in Canada now consists of a checkerboard of 12 provincial and territorial policies, and innumerable local policies.
Now that four of the five national political parties support new housing funding, the momentum is starting to swing back. Here are key parts of a national housing strategy:
About $2 billion is needed every year. The scale of funding has to match the scale of the need. The $170 million promised by the Liberals is not enough. Even if Ottawa spends $20 billion over ten years, as most advocates are asking, the housing crisis will only be cut in half. But $2 billion annually - the "One Percent Solution" - is a solid goal.
And it's affordable. This year, the federal surplus could be $20 billion. Five weeks of the surplus will buy an entire year of housing spending.
A new national housing strategy has to meet the social, and political, realities of Canada. The federal Liberal plan depends on cost-sharing with provinces and territories. Canada has had successful housing programs in the past in which the costs were shared by two levels of government.
Provinces, such as Quebec, can take federal dollars, roll them into provincial programs and produce even more housing. But there are other provinces and territories that either can't afford to match federal dollars, or won't match them.
A national housing strategy that depends on provincial cooperation and provincial dollars won't reach many parts of Canada. Desperately needed new housing will be delayed by jurisdictional squabbling. A new national housing strategy must be flexible: cost-shared with those provinces and territories that are willing, and other arrangements in the rest of Canada.
In those places, Ottawa can flow dollars to municipalities or non-governmental housing administrators.
Ottawa says that it doesn't want to get back into administration of housing programs. Okay. There are plenty of other ways to get federal dollars into new housing. The National Housing Policy Options Paper of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has proposals for action.
So do other national housing groups. With Canada's record of success in housing programs, and lots of expertise among municipalities and community-based housing providers, program design is an administrative detail that shouldn't delay the commitment of $2 billion in new spending.
3. Tips for action in your community:
Here are five practical actions that you can take:
ii) Phone, fax, e-mail, write - or best of all - meet with your Member of Parliament (MP). Look in the blue pages of your telephone directory for contact information.
You can write to your MP (and the Prime Minister and Finance Minister) at: < name of MP >, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6. No postage is required.
iii) Phone, fax, e-mail or write Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Finance Minister Paul Martin. Fax the PM at 613-941-6900. Fax Minister Martin at 613-992-4291.
iv) Speak out for housing in your community. Talk to your neighbours, your coworkers, your union, your church or faith community. Set up a forum in a local school or community centre and invite some speakers. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Write an article for a church bulletin or community newspaper.
v) Join a coalition on housing and homelessness in your community, or start your own. Work together with other concerned people in your area. Letter-writing and meetings with politicians can have a big impact, especially if enough people join in the campaign. Contact your MP, even if they are a member of the Alliance, the only national party that isn't committed to new housing funding.
Alliance MPs say that they will act on the views of their constituents. A few tips for your letter, or meeting:
- Introduce yourself. Say why you are concerned about the homeless disaster. If you have a personal connection (a friend, a relative, perhaps even yourself), mention it.
- Demand that the next federal budget include $2 billion for new social housing. Mention the One Percent Solution.
- Make sure to ask your MP, the PM or Finance Minister to act on your concerns and reply to you in writing. Ask your MP to communicate directly with the PM and Finance Minister and send you a copy of their letter.
This document is prepared by the National Housing and Homelessness Network (NHHN). We are a nationwide network of community-based housing and homeless advocates, formed in March of 1999. For more information on housing and homelessness, contact TDRC (the secretariat for NHHN) at firstname.lastname@example.org