Making housing a right would push government to address shortage

An open letter to the Prime Minister is highlighting Canada’s housing shortage and challenging the government to take a new approach to the problem.  The letter, signed by over 170 organizations and prominent Canadians urged the Prime Minister to follow through on his commitment to make housing a human right. The NDP is calling on the Liberal government to address the concerns in the open letter after bringing the issue to parliament earlier this year.

The housing shortage is nothing new and Canada has been facing a crisis for years. Rising rents, rental housing shortages, and federal government withdrawal from social housing funding have forced many families to spend too much of their income on housing.  Our consistently high number of homeless people is also a sign that too many people are unable to keep up and losing their housing altogether.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a household can be considered to be in core housing need when it budgets and spends more than 30% of its income on housing.  Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey from 2011 showed that 3.3 million households (25.2%) spent more than 30% of their total income to housing. The problem is shared almost equally among those who own their homes and those who rent.  This places them at risk of falling into homelessness.

The problem is worse for the 200,000 Canadians who are homeless in any given year.   A 2013 report from the Canadian Homelessness Research Network national report says that only 4,000 – 8,000 can be considered chronically homeless.   This means the remainder of that number experience what is called episodic homelessness with at least 150,000 Canadians relying on a homeless shelter at some point every year and the duration of those stays becoming longer over time.  There are also an estimated 50,000 hidden homeless people in Canada who live temporarily with others with no guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospects for accessing permanent housing.

What is clear is that patchwork solutions are not solving our housing problem.  Canada must work towards ending homelessness instead of continuing with the government’s approach of managing the homeless population.  New Democrats are supporting the open letter’s call for Canada to legally enshrine a right to housing and have developed legislation to do this as well.   But despite the Prime Minister’s previous commitment, last November the government voted down the bill  which would have legislated this right into Canadian law.

Solving homelessness would make economic sense as well.  A growing body of research is showing that funding for housing and the fight against homelessness represents both an economic and a social investment. The Impact Study on the Activities of the Société d’habitation du Québec showed that every dollar invested in programs and work to replace, upgrade and modernize low-rent public housing contributed $2.30 into that provinces economy and supported the residential construction industry.

Even as the government continues to dodge efforts to make this an actual right in Canada, there is growing and wide-spread support for enshrining a legal right to housing. Many Canadians are clearly suffering from the effects of unaffordable housing which is why the government must make this an urgent priority to ensure that everybody has the right to security, good health, and safety in the form of adequate housing.