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Report calls on federal government to create affordable housing framework

A federal advisory group says Ottawa needs to step in to speed up construction and preservation of affordable housing.

The National Housing Council’s review panel on systemic housing issues presented its report to Housing Minister Sean Fraser Monday. It concluded that Canada hasn’t provided a practical framework to apply the right to housing and must do more to finance non-market rentals.

Sam Watts, CEO of Montreal’s Welcome Hall Mission and chair of the panel that authored the report, says Ottawa should bring all relevant actors and stakeholders to the table and find a national consensus on standards for tenant protection.

“The federal parliament, as the highest order of government, has a responsibility toward all other orders of government to lead,” he said. “As Canadians, we understand that access to health care is something that kind of defines us as a country. We believe in health care for all. Well, why not housing?”

Montreal, the only major Canadian city to see a drop in housing starts last year, released its own report Tuesday that also calls on the provincial and federal governments to help kick-start construction projects.

Fewer affordable rentals

The federal report shows that that the growth of renter households in Canada is outpacing the growth in home ownership. This comes as Canada lost 230,000 affordable rental units between 2016 and 2021.

It says it’s not enough to simply boost the overall supply of rental housing. Rather, the right kind of housing must be built, and existing affordable rental housing must be protected.

older white man with white hair and beard speaks at a press conference
Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission and co-chair of a federal panel that issued the report, says Canada must do more to ensure the right to housing. (CBC)

The report points to most industrialized countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) spending between 0.5 and 1.5 per cent of their GDP on non-market housing between 2020 and 2021. In contrast, Canada spends between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent of its GDP on subsidized housing.

The report recommends incentivizing the development of new affordable rentals through subsidies, protecting existing affordable housing stock through a rental acquisition program, establishing and funding a non-market rental housing plan and providing more support for tenants.

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The federal government outlined significant investments and actions in its 2024 housing plan and 2024-25 budget that align with the recommendations in the report, Watts said. But he said more needs to be done for tenants.

Watts said all provinces should adopt the level of tenant rights afforded to people in Quebec. He applauded the bill tabled by Quebec Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau last week that would ban certain evictions for three years and increase rental protections for seniors.

Montreal to streamline construction permits

On Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante committed to have 120,000 units built in the next 10 years, a recommendation in a new report commissioned by the city.

Only seven per cent of homes in Montreal are social and affordable units. The city’s report says that must rise to 20 per cent by 2050.

A woman speaks into a microphone.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says the city is taking measures to make it easier for developers to build in the city. It wants to see 120,000 new units built in the next decade. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

“There’s complexity building downtown, I won’t deny that,” Plante told journalists at a news conference Tuesday.

“It’s not perfect. We’re moving in the right direction, we know we need to do better and we will.”

Montreal’s report — which included input from housing groups and real-estate firms — recommends reviewing zoning laws to encourage density, providing more money for non-profit housing groups and setting a maximum wait time for work permits.

La Presse reported Tuesday that the average wait time for such permits doubled in five years.

The city earmarked $3 million to help non-profits with costs related to housing starts and will impose a 120-day deadline for boroughs to issue building permits that meet zoning requirements starting next month.

Many recommendations in the city’s report overlap with those of the National Housing Council.

Watts stresses there must be a focus on off-market housing people can afford.

“I think we know that the cost of not solving this problem is going to be enormous,” he said.

“This is the opportunity for us to seize the moment and say it’s time for all of us to get around the table, and we can actually solve this thing. It is challenging, but not impossible.”

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