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Oh give me a home

Canada is not alone in suffering from a housing crisis. Having suitable shelter for its citizens has become a significant problem in most Western countries.

Canada is not alone in suffering from a housing crisis. Having suitable shelter for its citizens has become a significant problem in most Western countries. While the cause is multifactorial, incompetent and delinquent Canadian governmental planning and coordination for the needs of new immigrants and refugees is a critical factor.

Canada ranks 8th in the world for the number of citizens who were born in another country. Presently 21 per cent of Canadians (8 million) were born elsewhere. Of these, 1.2 million are refugees who came to Canada in the most recent 10 years. We have failed at all levels of government to adequately plan and manage publicly funded services in housing, education, social supports and health care for this new citizenry. 

So now we have a crisis. The current flavour of the month in Ottawa is housing, with the federal minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities declaring that shelter is a right of citizenship and that the federal government is taking the reins to solve it.

That is an intriguing statement. True, we are co-authors and signatories of the 1948  United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document states that housing is a basic human right as part of the right to an adequate standard of living (food, clothing, security of person and employment). However, our country’s seminal constitutional laws — the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the 1867 British North American Act, the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights and our 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms — are all silent with regard to housing or shelter. 

Rather, public housing policies in Canada, insofar as the federal government is concerned, has to date been directed at rent controls and subsidized interest rates and grants. This began in 1935, after a study of housing needs, with the Dominion Housing Act being passed in response to the housing shortage caused by the Great Depression. It targeted mortgage assistance. This was replaced three years later by the National Housing Act, authorizing the federal government to make loans of up to 90 per cent of construction costs. Local housing authorities could access the fund if rents did not exceed 20 per cent of the occupant's income. This Act was abandoned in 1993 when the federal government ended all funding for social housing construction.

The Trudeau government has now reinserted itself into social housing and targeted mortgages. The overall federal plan calls for the construction of 3.87 million new homes by 2031. The breathlessly announced federal budget sets aside $18 billion in loans to be available over the next six years. It projects that this infusion of taxpayers money will result in 800,000 new housing units — the equivalent to lending $22,500 per unit. Currently, a 1,000-square-foot residence in Canada costs over $200,000 — far short of the previous National Housing Act provisions. Furthermore Canada already spends $600 billion annually on residential housing construction.

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