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Towards a national housing strategy

We live in momentous times: currently, a very significant piece of legislation is making its way towards adoption. I outlined the reasons for the creation of a national housing strategy during Homelessness Action Week. Housing has a profound influence on the planning of our cities and regions, and housing provision in Canada has been subject to a litany of policies and programs that have decreased housing choice, made homeownership the only viable choice for most Canadians, and undermined the ability of developers to construct rental housing.

The Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act (Bill C-304), was proposed by Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies in February of this year. It has been a long time coming: similar bills were introduced in 2008 and 2006, but the instability of minority governments prevented them from gaining any serious ground. Parliament voted to move ahead with Bill C-304 on September 30, 2009 (this second reading passed with a vote of 147 to 138) and now it must go through a House Standing Committee Meeting before being brought back to the House of Commons for a 3rd reading. Some significant passages from the bill:

  • “Whereas the provision of and access to adequate housing is a fundamental human right according to paragraph 25(1) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights…”
  • “Whereas Canada’s wealth and national budget are more than adequate to ensure that every woman, child and man residing in Canada has secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing as part of a standard of living that will provide healthy physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social development and a good quality of life…”
  • “Whereas improved housing conditions are best achieved through co-operative partnerships of government and civil society and the meaningful involvement of local communities…”
  • “3.(1) The Minister shall, in consultation with the provincial ministers of the Crown responsible for municipal affairs and housing and with representatives of municipalities and Aboriginal communities, establish a national housing strategy designed to ensure that the cost of housing in Canada does not compromise an individual’s ability to meet other basic needs, including food, clothing and access to education.”
  • “3.(2) The national housing strategy shall provide financial assistance, including financing and credit without discrimination, for those who are otherwise unable to afford rental housing.”

Under the specific requirements, the Act ensures the construction of housing that “includes not-for-profit rental housing projects, mixed income not-for-profit housing cooperatives, special-needs housing and housing that allows senior citizens to remain in their homes as long as possible”, housing for the homeless, temporary and emergency shelters. They even managed to include standards for sustainable and energy-efficient design. The Act prioritizes housing for those who haven’t had access to stable, secure affordable housing over an extended period; those who have special needs due to family size or status, or mental or physical disabilities; and those who have been denied housing due to discrimination.

The Act requires the federal housing Minister to work with the provincial ministers of housing and municipal representatives, and (s)he is required to convene a meeting of these within 180 days after the passage of the Act to develop standards and objectives for the strategy, set targets for the commencement of programs, and develop principles of agreement for implementation of the programs. The Minister “may take any measures that the Minister considers appropriate to implement the national housing strategy as quickly as possible.” The Minister is required to present a report of this meeting “before each House of Parliament on any one of the first five days that the House is sitting following the expiration of 180 days after the end of the conference.”

Like many Canadians, I’ve been following Bill C-304 rabidly. Legisinfo provides the latest updates so stay tuned: the House Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities met on Nov. 5th and will meet again on Nov. 17th. They need to report on their debates to the House of Commons before the 3rd reading of the bill. To quote Chris Brown, the NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain, “It is about rights. It is about dignity. It is about investments. It is about jobs. It is about time.”


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