An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing)
Peter Stoffer NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Private Members' Business
October 17th, 2012 / 7:30 p.m.
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, as official opposition housing critic, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-400, introduced in this House by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. This bill would establish a Canadian housing strategy.
I also want to thank the member for Vancouver East, who championed this issue for many years on behalf of the NDP opposition.
It goes without saying that my constituents in Hochelaga are following this debate closely and want all members of this House to pay attention to this issue that is very important to them. They want all of hem to work together to enact this bill that would benefit all Canadians.
In Hochelaga, 69% of residents are renters; 30% of households spend more than 30% of their income on housing; and 42% of renters, or 18,250 households, have incomes that do not allow them to meet basic needs.
Canada is the only industrialized country that does not have a housing strategy. The NDP hopes to remedy that situation with this bill.
Many Canadians still have a hard time finding adequate housing, if they even manage to have a roof over their heads at all.
It makes absolutely no sense that, in a country like ours, countless people live on the streets or have to make tough choices between paying rent or feeding their family.
Voters across the country want their elected representatives to care about their basic needs, and I am sure you know, Mr. Speaker, that adequate housing is a basic need.
The problem today is that the poor are not the only ones having trouble finding adequate housing. Middle-class families also struggle with this. To fix this situation we need a plan.
Two weeks ago I spoke here about World Habitat Day, created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 to highlight the fact that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing. Housing is a fundamental right under international law, and Canada committed to take action in this regard.
Another NDP bill, Bill C-241, introduced by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to include the right to proper housing, at a reasonable cost and free of unreasonable barriers.
The purpose of the bill before us today is to move from words to deeds.
We want to work with the provinces, municipalities, aboriginal communities and community organizations involved in housing — as we have much to learn from them — in order to give Canada a meaningful housing strategy, so that all Canadians can finally have access to safe, appropriate, accessible and affordable housing.
What we mean by affordable housing is not something that costs $300,000, but a scenario in which housing costs—including rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, electricity, water, fuel and other municipal services—are less than 30% of a household's total pre-tax income.
It all sounds very good, but this is exactly where Canada has a real problem. According to survey results released by Habitat for Humanity Canada for World Habitat Day, 35% of respondents bought fewer groceries because of high housing costs; this percentage jumps to 46% in the Maritimes; one in four Canadians has postponed paying bills to pay the rent; and 84% of Canadians participating in the survey believe that the federal government should take action towards affordable housing. This is from people who elected us.
The advantages of having a truly integrated housing strategy are numerous: being able to assess the diverse needs of the elderly, women, aboriginal communities, students, people with disabilities, families, victims of violence, people taking part in rehabilitation programs and more; stopping housing crises before they start; reducing homelessness; ensuring that people are not paying too much for housing; allowing people to invest in other sectors of the economy; and making it possible for all to live in dignity.
Before adopting the strategy, we first need to consult with the people and special interest groups. That is why, last month, I launched Canada-wide public consultations on the state of housing in the country.
In the coming months, I will travel to every part of the country to meet with citizens and community groups in order to better understand their actual housing needs. I can already report on some of the things I was told by the people I met in the town hall meetings I organized. The federal government should maintain—or better yet, increase—funding for social housing.
In Canada, more than 620,000 social housing units, including 127,000 in Quebec, have been built under long-term agreements with social housing providers ranging in length from 25 to 50 years depending on the terms of the mortgage. These grants were meant to allow social housing projects to help their low-income tenants while paying off their mortgage. In the past four years, roughly 26,000 social housing units in Canada have been affected by the expiration of these long-term agreements. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's estimates, that number will grow by 73,000 by 2016, bringing the total number of affected units to some 100,000.
The problem is that after 25 or 30 years, the buildings have to be renovated, such that most of these social housing projects will no longer be viable at the end of their agreement.
Let me talk about renovations for a minute. Housing co-operatives that have recently tried to refinance their CMHC mortgage through a financial institution in order to do some renovations, were levied excessive penalties, which prevents them from doing the necessary work. It will be important to reduce those penalties to ensure the integrity of the buildings and the viability of the projects.
In the highlights of main estimates for 2012-13, the government points out a $21.7 million reduction as a result of expiring operating agreements for long-term projects, which means that the government considers this to be a savings and it has no intention of renewing funding for social housing.
In that case, around 2030, these “savings” will total $1.7 billion a year, or 85% of the total federal housing budget. In the coming weeks, I will be moving a motion in the House calling for the money saved at the end of operating agreements to be reinvested in social housing.
The major problem that I see with such a large budget cut is that social housing is the least expensive way to fight homelessness, as researcher Stephen Gaetz pointed out in his study on the cost of homelessness.
I would like to remind hon. members of some facts. In 2007, the cost of a hospital bed for one month was $10,900. In comparison, the cost of a bed in a shelter was $1,932. The cost to the City of Toronto—where rent is not the lowest in Canada—for a social housing unit was $199.92.
On top of all that, the federal homelessness partnering strategy provides only short-term funding that is not indexed. We are still wondering what will happen to this program when it expires in 2014, but, meanwhile, the waiting lists for social housing are getting longer and longer.
In addition to pressing social housing and homelessness prevention needs, many cities and regions of the country also have a shortage of rental housing. Right now, the vacancy rate is down from 2.5% to 2.3% for all of Canada and is at 2.2% for Quebec. For 10 years now, this rate has been below the break-even point of 3%, and the country has been experiencing a rental housing shortage. The situation is even more alarming in some regions of the country that have a vacancy rate of close to zero.
I could also give a number of examples of housing in aboriginal communities. What we saw last winter in Attawapiskat is only one of many examples of the alarming situation that exists in many communities across the country.
It is high time we had a national housing strategy. Time is of the essence.
Opposition Motion—Income Inequality
Business of Supply
September 25th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals' motion raises some points that are worth discussing. It is true that recent changes to employment insurance have hurt low-income workers. It is also true that non-refundable tax credits for caregivers cannot even be used by many people because their income is too low to take advantage of the tax deductions. And it is quite true that income inequality is growing in Canada. In fact, the gap in Canada is greater than in the United States. The Conservatives are rather silent about this, perhaps because they dare not admit that it is true. However, the changes called for in the Liberal motion barely scratch the surface of the problem. It is a good start, but we need much more profound changes in our society, as my colleague mentioned earlier.
I could criticize the government for all its measures with which I disagree, but as a member of the NDP I want to do politics differently. As our friend Jack often said, we want to work together. Therefore, rather than blaming the Conservatives, I would like to suggest some things we could do to help the most disadvantaged, measures that are compassionate, but that would also benefit the country financially. That is something they should like.
The motion we are debating today talks about reducing income inequality between the richest and the poorest. Let us talk a little bit about the neediest of the needy, those who do not even have a roof over their heads.
A recent study by Stephen Gaetz entitled The real cost of homelessness asks an intriguing question: can we save money by doing the right thing? It seems that a number of studies in Canada and the United States show that investing in prevention costs less, in the end, than using a patchwork of emergency solutions. Furthermore, we would be acting very compassionately. For example, the homeless are more poorly nourished and more stressed, often are the victims of violence or accidents, and do not sleep as well. The homeless are three and a half times more likely to have asthma than an average person, four times more likely to have cancer and five times more likely to have heart disease. In addition, they are 20 times more likely to have epilepsy and 29 times more likely to contract hepatitis C.
According to Michael Shapcott, from the Wellesley Institute in Toronto, in 2007, the monthly cost of a hospital bed was $10,900. Comparatively, the cost of a shelter bed was $1,932. Even better, the cost of a social housing bed in Toronto, where rent is not the cheapest in Canada, was $199.92. You do not have to be good at math to see that the best solution is rather obvious, in both economic and human terms.
A homeless person is also at a higher risk of ending up in prison. In fact, according to a study by Kellen and others in 2010, approximately one in five inmates was homeless at the time of being incarcerated. According to Statistics Canada, in 2008-09, the average yearly cost of incarceration for a male was $106,583, and was $203,061 for a female. I highly doubt that subsidized housing for one of these people, even including support workers, would have cost the government as much.
So yes, I agree with Mr. Gaetz: we can save money while still doing good. Secure, affordable, adapted, adequate and safe housing helps prevent a lot of problems. It is an intelligent way to effect profound changes in society, not only for the homeless, but also for everyone. Everyone should have the right to adequate housing without having to destroy themselves financially.
Many families and individuals have a hard time making ends meet because they earn a pittance, because they are ill, because they are retired and living on a fixed income, because they are young and are having a hard time finding a first job, or because they are students.
It is mainly these people who see the gap between their incomes and those of the wealthy getting wider every year.
Yes, we must ensure that employment insurance is fair for everyone, including those who cannot find full-time work and who will lose out with the new clawback mechanism established by the Conservatives. By the way, the presumption that everyone can find full-time work is false.
At the museum where I worked for 19 years, there were only three guides who had full-time jobs because of the nature of the work. The other 17 worked part-time. Jobs are becoming increasingly precarious, particularly in seasonal industries such as tourism and education. Many workers in these industries are women or young people who have less chance of success from the outset.
Yes, we must also ensure that caregivers can benefit from tax credits, even and particularly those who do not make enough money during the year to be able to take advantage of tax deductions. Once again, many of the people in these circumstances are women. Nonetheless, I am going to say it again: we need to take things much further than this motion.
Why not make the housing renovation programs permanent rather than providing temporary programs that leave something to be desired? With doors and windows that do not leak, heating systems would use less energy, and people would have lower heating bills and more money to spend on other things. There would also be more jobs available in the area of renovation.
Why not renew the agreements between the CMHC and social housing projects for buildings that need to be renovated or for those that cannot continue to provide subsidized housing once their mortgage expires?
Why not allow housing co-operatives that are trying to find another source of funding to end their agreement with the CMHC before the set end date without extremely restrictive penalties? This would allow them to find the money they need to do major renovations that cannot wait and that they do not have the means to do given their existing agreement with the CMHC.
Why not invest a portion of the CMHC's profits in new social housing, in conjunction with the provinces and territories, of course? People wait years for social and community housing. In the meantime, all of the money they spend on rent, which costs them much more than 25% of their income, could be helping other sectors of the economy. That money could also help them avoid having to choose between buying food or paying the rent. In the end, it would be better for the government too.
Why not bring back the 19.5% tax rate for big corporations, a rate that is, after all, still lower than that in the United States and that would give the government the money it needs to offer services to those who need them most? That money could be reinvested in housing and the fight against poverty.
I should point out that the NDP has repeatedly asked the House to adopt a national anti-poverty strategy. Maybe it is time for that now. All of these suggestions would help reduce the gap that is widening at an alarming rate between rich and poor in Canada.
Yes, I will support the Liberal motion this evening, but the House should also support bills introduced by my NDP colleagues, such as Bill C-241 and Bill C-400, which would guarantee all Canadians the right to decent, affordable housing so that they do not have to do without other essentials.
I hope that the members of all parties will set aside partisanship and support these important bills when the time comes to vote on them in the House. Forward-thinking, human policies like these are the only way to tackle growing inequality in our society.
Canadian Bill of Rights
June 21st, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to housing).
Mr. Speaker, all of us know what it is like to have a home, to have shelter where we feel safe and secure and where our families and our neighbours are safe and secure. Can anyone imagine not having a home?
We were just in Vancouver where we were told that on any given day there are 50,000 people on the streets. In Canada, right across the country, there could be well over 100,000 people without shelter. Shelter in this country should be a constitutional right. Every Canadian citizen should have access to shelter, be it an apartment, a condo, a house or whatever, but they should have a right to safe, affordable and secure housing.
We would like to amend the Constitution by ensuring that this definitely becomes a constitutional right of all Canadian citizens.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)