From June to October 2016, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) launched a series of public consultations called “Let’s Talk Housing” in order to get ideas for a National Housing Strategy (NHS). They reached out in particular to Canadians who face housing barriers, such as homeless or at-risk individuals and families, low-income households, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, seniors, and newcomers to Canada with the goal of discovering what opinions, insights, and ideas that Canadian residents have for the future of housing.
Although several themes were identified, the most important theme identified by Canadians and shared in the report was affordable housing.
“Canadians said housing they can afford and that meets their needs was the most important housing outcome. The lack of affordable, suitable and adequate housing is especially a concern for low-income households and other vulnerable Canadians across the country,” according to the report.
The affordability issue has been top of mind for many Canadians as home prices in some housing markets have skyrocketed past the ‘affordable’ point for months – even years – on end. Forty-five per cent of Canadians said that housing that they can afford and that meets their needs was the most important housing outcome to them. But the response, as may have been expected, varied based on participant location. The cost of housing in Canada’s largest cities was in the top three areas of concern in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec but was at, or near the bottom of the rankings in the rest of the provinces and territories.
Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister of families, children, and social development, and CHMC president and CEO Evan Sidell hosted a Facebook Live conversation today to discuss some findings and answer questions.
“It’s more than just about bricks and mortar,” Duclos said of housing. “It’s about giving people the best opportunity to succeed and build better lives for themselves and for their families and for their communities.”
Duclos also said that this reengagement with the Canadian government has generated tremendous energy and enthusiasm, and that’s because families are currently struggling to meet their basic housing needs.
“We also heard that the National Housing Strategy should take care of the growing challenge in terms of affordability of housing for low-income and middle income Canadians in many communities. That includes having a full continuum of housing options, including rental housing that is affordable and encourage housing real estate purchases in markets that are very overheated.”
The report repeats what has come to be a common refrain: in spite of the low interest rates that we’ve been experiencing, Canadians feel that escalating home prices in high-priced housing markets are preventing some homebuyers – especially young Canadians, newcomers, and those with no credit history – from entering the market, as well as limited land supply and a lag in developing higher density and suitable housing in urban centers with escalating rental prices.
“Others reflected on the limited supply of affordable purpose-built rental housing available in Canada to meet the housing needs of Canadians with a diversity of incomes, household types, lifestyles, and abilities,” reads the report. “Affordable housing is especially difficult to find in some of Canada’s large urban centers where land costs, house prices and rents are high, as well as in rural, remote, and Northern communities where there can be limited housing options. A response to the affordability issue needs to be looked at as a city-region problem, from both a planning, employment, and demographic perspective, given housing is an integral part of a broader economic system.”
Respondents also shared that high renovation costs prevented current owners from restoring and repairing their current homes, keeping it livable for future generations.
But urban centres aren’t the only focus of the report, and in the Facebook Live video, Dulcos fielded a question about the plans to support small communities specifically.
“Small communities face challenges that are different from those we find in larger cities,” Dulcos said. “Small communities are where families often have more difficult transportation issues, more difficult access to good quality child care services, more difficult – or at least, lengthier and more complicated –access to good education for their children, and of course, the economic development of small communities is often surrounded with challenges of globalization, displacement, natural resources, so we know that these challenges of smaller communities are different from those of larger cities, and particularly for housing. The housing stock has also become older in those smaller communities. There are often more seniors, the average age of families living there is often a bit larger, so with age comes a different set of needs and priorities, so we want to be flexible and able to meet those different needs.”
Regardless of where they live, financing is also an important piece of the affordable housing puzzle for many Canadians, and the report includes some suggestions that respondents had to encourage affordable housing:
  • Maintain the Home Buyers’ Plan, since it gives first-time homebuyers an opportunity to make larger down payments, which can reduce or avoid mortgage default insurance fees and help build home equity more quickly. Expand the Plan to extend eligibility to Canadians who relocate to secure employment, accommodate an elderly family member in the family home, become widowed, or suffer marital breakdown.
  • Subsidize the purchase cost of land for co-operatives, or for developers to construct mixed-housing developments.
  • Create investment funds for affordable housing, allowing Canadians the option to invest their earnings in a fund that will grow affordable housing units.
  • Provide tax credits and benefits to Canadians and property owners who create new affordable housing (e.g., secondary suites) or renovate/retrofit their homes.
  • Promote more rental supply by lowering various taxes and charges levied to developers
  • Create a rent supplement program similar to the one used by some co-operatives.
  • Establish a government fund to create loans for ownership units. Mortgaged over 25 years, these units would generate a full repayment to the government.
Regardless of whether the conversation centers on rental housing, social housing, or general affordability in the housing market, one thing that respondents recognized is the fact that amenities around housing itself play a crucial role in the life of the community and the happiness and productivity of its inhabitants.
“Affordable housing that is designed and built with other factors in mind such as being close to jobs, public transportation, community services, public space, daycare facilities, and other amenities also make it easier for people to connect with others and to participate fully in the lives of their communities, both the economic and the social, and the political lives as well,” Duclos said. “This, in turn, has a snowball effect, which revitalizes the economy and contributes to urban renewal and the creation of vibrant communities. . . . Canadians expect governments to make the needed investments in housing to bridge the gaps between those that can access good housing and those that cannot.”
The "Let’s Talk Housing" conversation was held via consultations, focus groups, and roundtable discussions on housing finance, social inclusion, and sustainability, as well as through online outlets, such as surveys and social media sites.
Other themes that arose from the consultation included helping those in greatest need; helping Indigenous peoples achieve better housing outcomes for themselves; eliminating homelessness; coordinating the existing housing initiatives; setting clear outcomes and targets; delivering long-term and predictable funding; realizing the right to housing; improving data collection, analysis, and research; and taking a collaborative approach to housing.
An official NHS is planned to be presented to Canadians in 2017.

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