Canada finally has a Minister of Housing. Where do we do?
As a street nurse, I have been monitoring the “housing case” for over three decades. In the federal landscape, I have always been clear who the Minister of Health was. But who was their equivalent in housing?
Well, there were ministers Marleau, Fontana, Gagliano, Collenette, Mahoney, McCallum, Solberg, Finley, Kenney, and Bergen. These are the names of federal cabinet ministers since the 1990s who supposedly had housing responsibilities – or should have had.
The list of names is mind boggling. Their inaction is even more so.
One of those ministers had tears of regret when he told us at the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee that he just couldn’t convince his cabinet colleagues to start funding social housing again.
Then there was the awkward appointment by Jean Chrétien of the Minister of Labor, Claudette Bradshaw, to the post of Minister responsible for the homeless in 1999. What a title, the only one in the world that I know of. As my colleague Michael Shapcott has always said, his work made people “more comfortable” in their state of homelessness, but without funding for housing they were left homeless.
These federal ministers responsible for housing had a dizzying array of titles. Accommodation was supposed to be their responsibility.
The Trudeau government’s 2017 National Housing Strategy certainly gave public relations a boost at the Cabinet table with the appointment of Jean-Yves Duclos and then Ahmed Hussen as ministers of families, children and care. Social development. Housing was mentioned – or should I say, watered down – in their mandate letters and those of several other ministers.
Since I have been working on this issue, Canada has never had a separate Federal Minister of Housing – that is, until last week, when Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Ahmed Hussen Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion.
The neglect of housing for decades can only have been intentional.
In 1993, the federal Liberal and Conservative governments decimated Canada’s national housing program, which had built an average of 20,000 new units per year. By the late 1990s, the results were tragic and have been well documented in movies, media coverage, public inquiries, inquiries – and on homeless memorials.
Ironically, Minister Hussen immigrated to Canada in 1993, the same year that Chrétien’s Liberal government canceled spending on social housing and transferred responsibility for existing and new housing to the provinces.
In less than five years, the country has faced a tragic social disaster that has been accompanied by huge waiting lists for housing and mass homelessness. In response, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee was formed in 1998 and issued a Declaration of state of emergency calling roaming a national disaster. They launched a national grassroots network that targeted many of the aforementioned ministers. This included one-on-one meetings, briefings, disaster visits, demonstrations and presentations at the so-called Federal-Provincial-Territorial Housing Ministers’ Meetings, often with our partners, including FRAPRU, Unifor, and national faith groups.
Our main demand was that all levels of government devote an additional percent of their budgets to social housing. In the disaster committee’s declaration of emergency, we warned:
“The situation of homelessness is worsening daily at an alarming rate, as the factors that create it remain unchecked. Any delay in a firm and massive response will only further exacerbate the current crisis of suffering and death which is already an epidemic that no civilized society can tolerate. “
Today, 28 years after the program was eliminated, Canada faces a deficit of over half a million social housing units. This figure reflects the loss of 20,000 new homes per year, plus the loss of social housing due to gentrification. During these years, we have witnessed the impact of neoliberalism: privatization, financialization of housing (see the documentary film TO PUSH) and a further reduction in government funding for social programs.
The encroachment of US housing policy in Canada in the early 2000s led to the adoption of the US Housing First model. This should have been the first warning that we were going to find ourselves on a downhill course. When have we ever looked to the United States for good social policy?
Housing First essentially ration housing (some even say it ghettoizes housing), primarily for chronically homeless people with mental health and addiction issues. It is used to make invisible people considered as nuisances and bad for tourism. He supports the ideology that people are to blame for their duration of homelessness, not the state that left them behind. Housing First has pushed the concept of housing as a social good over the cliff.
The simplest way to explain why it’s bad is to compare it to universal healthcare. Would we accept that you can only access health care if you have a certain condition and do not provide health services for all? The answer is no.
Housing First is official policy across Canada and its cornerstone is the concept of 10-year plans to end homelessness. These plans, devised over 10 years ago, have been a big failure. Across the country, witness housing shortages and waiting lists, the failure to protect existing affordable housing from gentrification and financialization, appalling shelter conditions and shortages, the tsunami of evictions and encampments.
Our country needs a Minister of Housing. We now have a name for it, but with a catch-all title that suggests certain boxes were checked in Minister Hussen’s appointment.
Minister Hussen has now done several interviews and it is no surprise that his priorities will follow those of the Liberal government in 2021. electoral platform.
In a recent interview on Radio-Canada The House he talked about these issues:
- housing supply, but provinces, territories and municipalities, private and public sectors will need to join forces
- homeownership through measures such as the first-time home buyer incentive program
- blind auctions and down payments
- inclusionary zoning that relies on private developers to include affordable housing (“affordable” is not defined) in their developments
- intensification of housing around public transport
- existing programs such as the Quick Housing Initiative (a COVID program that built units in 4-6 months) and the Canada Housing Benefit (short-term rent assistance)
- renovations and foreign ownership
It’s what I don’t hear that alarms me. The Liberal platform did not use the word “social housing” and I still cannot hear it.
We will truly have a Minister of Housing if the Minister’s mandate letter includes funding for social housing and rent-geared-to-income housing, creating a cooperative housing component, providing funds for rehabilitation old housing stock, ensuring that pensions for the elderly are increased so that they can afford to stay in their homes, and creating standards of long-term care so that our seniors can be safely housed in their homes. recent years, and the same is true of home care.
Image: Cathy Crowe. Used with permission.