moved that Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be here today to debate Bill C-400, which would establish a national housing strategy. This bill would require the minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to work with the provinces and territories, aboriginal communities, municipalities, non-profit and private-sector housing providers, and civil society organizations.
Coordinating these efforts is the key to success. Today is International Anti-Poverty Day, which makes this bill even more significant. I would like to sincerely thank the members for Halifax, London—Fanshawe and Vancouver East for working so hard and so diligently on the housing file. Another big thank you goes to the official opposition housing critic, the member for Hochelaga, for her support and co-operation over the past few months.
We have worked hard since this bill was introduced in February. We have met with dozens of stakeholders, participated in forums and got the support of a number of organizations across Canada. These organizations include YWCA Canada, the Réseau québécois des OSBL d'habitation, the Wellesley Institute and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents more than 2,000 cities. Like the NDP, these organizations believe that Bill C-400 can solve a lot of problems. It is no accident that I am sponsoring this bill. As elected members of Parliament, we are fortunate to be able to introduce bills that can improve Canadians' quality of life. I am a former community worker, so housing and homelessness are particularly important to me. I would like to acknowledge my former colleagues, the members of the Corporation de développement communautaire des Maskoutains and the Table de concertation solidarité itinérance maskoutaine. We always dreamt of having a bill like this, as did Jack Layton.
Whether as a Toronto city councillor, or president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, or even when he was here in the House of Commons, Jack Layton always worked to make sure every Canadian had a roof over their head. I am introducing Bill C-400 in order to carry on Jack's work and the work of every housing and homelessness organization. Every Canadian should have access to safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing. Jack Layton said:
When all Canadians can say “I have suitable housing in my community,” then our work will be done.
That is so true that even the Conservatives agree. On September 14, the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot said this about housing:
Our government is committed to supporting Canadian families and communities, but it takes the efforts of many and partnerships at all levels to get real results.
Working together and coordinating efforts are precisely what Bill C-400 proposes. But the government prefers to abandon Canadians rather than listen to the official opposition. That is the problem with this government. It hits us with rhetoric, but a reality check makes it clear that the situation is out of control. Canada is the laughingstock of the UN when it comes to housing, as the 2009 UN report on decent housing indicates. The special rapporteur said that Canada is lagging in its social housing obligations and in its fight against homelessness. He also criticized the government's failure to address this growing crisis. The rapporteur also expressed concern over the many cuts to funding and housing programs. The 2009 UN universal periodic review addressed these critical concerns in its final recommendations for Canada. Our record is poor.
Believe it or not, Canada used to be a world leader in terms of its housing record. But the cuts to housing programs in the early 1990s have prevented Canada from meeting its international obligations. The situation has been getting worse ever since.
What did the government do in response to this damning UN report? It promised to work more effectively with the provinces and territories.
The government made this promise to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unfortunately, this commitment never amounted to anything. More empty words. The last departmental report published by the CMHC indicates that the federal government does not plan to keep its commitments. In 2013, Canada will undergo its second universal periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council. At that time, the government will have to report to civil society organizations and member countries of the United Nations human resources committee on its accomplishments in the area of housing. The way things are going, we are probably not going to do any better than the first time.
Nevertheless, the NDP is offering the government the solution on a silver platter. The national housing strategy set out in Bill C-400 would respond to most of the UN's concerns. The federal government's efforts must be coordinated with those of the provinces and territories, as well as those of the private sector and organizations on the ground. The solution is simple: we must stop improvising.
I am hardly the first person to say it. In 2004, the hon. member for Vancouver East introduced Bill C-509 for the first time. This bill was a declaration of housing rights that would have protected the right to affordable, accessible and adequate housing. In 2006, this same bill was again introduced by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe.
Not willing to give up, in 2009, the hon. member for Vancouver East once again introduced an amended version of the bill.
With the support of the other opposition parties, the bill went to committee, where a clause was added that would have allowed Quebec to opt out of the legislation with full financial compensation. Unfortunately, the bill died on the Order Paper when the election was called in the spring of 2012. The bill had the support of all the opposition parties and even the support of one Conservative member. Canada was close to having its own national housing strategy. This time, I hope that the government will agree to adopt this strategy.
The situation is completely out of control. The economic crisis gave rise to a housing crisis that is affecting the entire country, not just big cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
Household debt has reached a critical point. Many international organizations are warning the government, but it does not seem to be listening. In 2008, the global economic downturn resulted in higher property prices. Those who were able to buy a home ended up with a mortgage that they could not afford to pay.
The Bank of Canada and the International Monetary Fund have warned Canada that the country's household debt is far too high, at 158%. That is unprecedented. Mortgages account for 68% of that debt. Those who cannot afford a mortgage are forced to turn to the rental market, which can no longer keep up with the demand. Vacancy rates in Canada have reached record lows. Once again, this is not exclusive to large urban centres. In 2010, the CMHC found vacancy rates under 2% in 10 Canadian cities: 0.9% in Winnipeg, 1% in the Quebec City region, 1.4% in St. John's and 1.8% here in Ottawa. There is a serious lack of rental housing in those cities.
Changing global economic conditions are reflected in the changing housing needs in Canada. These conditions have created a void in the construction and housing sectors. There is a housing shortage, and low-income families have very few housing options. Where are the solutions? This federal government certainly is not offering any. At the end of the day, on the one hand, we have renters who are inadequately housed and are paying too much, and on the other hand, we have fewer and fewer home owners with increasing debt levels.
What is not make clear in this equation? The only thing that is crystal clear is that this government has lost all control. It is time to adopt a national housing strategy. I know I am repeating myself, but there is nothing else to add. We need to act now. Other G8 countries realized this a long time ago. This government likes to compare itself to other G8 countries, and so it must know that those countries have known for quite some time that adequate housing guarantees long-term, sustainable economic growth.
In Belgium, for example, housing is under regional jurisdiction. Social housing represents 7% of the national rental housing stock, and every region has a regional social housing corporation. Social housing units are allocated based on a combination of income ceilings, household size and urgency of need. Monthly rents depend on tenants' incomes.
In addition, the right to housing is guaranteed by the constitution. Article 23 provides that every person is entitled to dignity, which includes the right to decent housing. These policies have resulted in a vacancy rate of 7.8%
Austria's housing policy focuses on two essential factors: government financial assistance and a competent and diligent limited-profit sector.
The government has established essential financing mechanisms and legislation to regulate security of tenure and rents. As a result of a long-standing government commitment, one in six Austrians lives in an apartment built or managed by a limited-profit housing association.
In the United Kingdom, the Minister of Communities and Local Governments works together with local authorities to manage housing in the country. The government has just adopted the Affordable Homes Programme 2011-2015, and that program is backed by a £4.5 billion investment to increase the supply of social housing in the country. It includes a special component for seniors and persons at risk. The result is that social housing serves more than four million households.
Investing in housing pays dividends. Safe, adequate, accessible and affordable housing means Canadians who are well housed, more fit for work and in better financial health.
However, unlike the major industrial countries, Canada has not yet understood this.
Given the federal government's withdrawal from this sector, many Canadian municipalities have decided to adopt action plans, often with very few resources.
In Saskatoon, the city encourages the construction of rental properties by offering a $5,000 subsidy for every rental unit built, in addition to a progressive tax credit over five years.
In 2010, Quebec City adopted regulations to slow the conversion of rental apartments to condos. As a result, a rental property must be vacant for 10 years before it can be transformed into a condo property.
In 2010, in my riding, the Saint-Hyacinthe city council invested $2 million in social housing. That is a lot for a city of about 50,000 people.