Thank you for the opportunity to make these submissions.
The Wellesley Institute is an independent research and policy institute. Over the last decade we've funded more than 100 research and policy projects that look at the links between housing, income, and health. I'd very much like to take you on a guided tour through those 100 reports and their detailed recommendations, but of course we don't have time to do that.
I'll simply say that what our reports clearly demonstrate is that there are clear links among poor housing, homelessness, increased illness, and premature death. Our reports also show that a good home is a basic requirement for a healthy life and that good housing knits together communities and strengthens the local and national economy.
I know that some people in this building like to tell people outside of this building in the rest of the country what to do; they like to dictate rigid policies and say, “This is what you have to do”. Mr. Komarnicki, in his questioning in the earlier session as I overheard it, was getting at this point. As we read Bill C-304, it doesn't make that mistake.
What this bill does is direct the federal minister to go out and engage with the key partners to create a national housing strategy that will really work and that reflects the needs of local communities. We think that's a very important direction to take.
However, there are two groups that have inadvertently been left out, and I hope they'll be brought back in through the amendment process. These are, of course, the non-profit and the private sectors. They both have valuable expertise. They deserve to be at the table along with the various orders of government and aboriginal communities. We'd encourage the committee in its review to amend in particular subclauses 3(1), 4(1), 4(2), and 5(1) to include representatives of the non-profit and private housing sectors in those processes.
Canada, as noted in the preamble to Bill C-304, has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes the right to adequate housing. In February, the United Nations Human Rights Council held its first Universal Periodic Review of Canada's compliance with its international obligations, including the right to adequate housing.
The federal government formally responded, in fact, on June 9, 2009, when it accepted the UN recommendation on housing and stated, in the formal federal response: “Canada acknowledges that there are challenges and the Government of Canada commits to continuing to explore ways to enhance efforts to address poverty and housing issues, in collaboration with provinces and territories”. As we read that, we see that the federal government is saying that it's keen to work with the provinces and territories on housing and poverty issues.
We know that the provinces and territories have been asking the federal government for at least four years to come to the table to develop a new national housing strategy. Of course, the federal government and all the provinces and territories did sign the Affordable Housing Framework Agreement in 2001. That was a five-year agreement.
By 2005 the provinces and territories said there needed to be a new national housing framework. All of the provinces, incidentally, have joined together on that. On September 22, 2005, all of the provinces and territorial housing ministers released a set of principles to guide a new national housing framework. They put that on the table, and since 2005 there hasn't been a meeting of the federal, provincial, and territorial housing ministers.
We have a willing federal government, we have willing provinces and territories who want to discuss these things, we've heard that we have willing municipalities, the private sector wants to come and talk about these things, and the non-profit sector wants to be at the table as well. What we don't have is a mechanism or process that gets everyone together. Bill C-304 gives us that process. It also puts a nice timeline on it of 180 days and creates a sense of urgency around what is an urgent national issue.
Without a national housing strategy, as set out in the goal of Bill C-304, Canadians won't know whether the $17.5 billion that the federal government is investing this year in various housing initiatives is being spent effectively. I repeat that: $17.5 billion that the federal government is reporting this year that it's investing in various housing initiatives. This was actually a bit of a surprise to us when we started to do the tally.
Earlier this year, the Auditor General for British Columbia released a comprehensive review of that province's housing and homelessness programs. Some of his comments I think are relevant to your deliberations today. He said: Clear goals and objectives for homelessness and adequate accountability for results remain outstanding...government has not yet established appropriate indicators of success....We found significant activity and resources being applied, but...no provincial [housing] and homelessness plan with clear goals and objectives...When there are no clear goals or performance targets, accountability for results is missing. How will we know we are successful if we have not identified success?
That would be the same for the federal government. If people want it, I'd be happy to give the full shopping list of what the federal government reports it's spending. It reports that it's spending $3.57 billion this fiscal year in direct spending on affordable housing.
Furthermore, the government says it's going to spend $13.9 billion on housing-related tax expenditures: the home renovation tax credit, capital gains exemptions, homebuyer tax subsidies, and so on. That's a lot of money. Are we getting value for results from that money? We don't know. We don't have a national plan against which to measure all the spending.
I'd say that we need a national housing strategy fundamentally to ensure that the nine million or more Canadians who are precariously housed will get the practical and pragmatic housing help that they require in their communities.
Even before the recession hit, the numbers were quite grim. I won't take the time to go through all the numbers, but the federal government says 300,000 Canadians are homeless, and we think that number is probably a bit shy of the real mark. About 3.3 million households live in substandard housing, three million households live in unaffordable housing, 1.5 million households are in core housing need, and 705,000 households are in overcrowded housing--and that was before the recession.
Since the start of the recession, half a million jobs have been lost and 150,000 households have been evicted from their homes because they couldn't afford to pay their rent. Canada's housing supply deficit, which is the gap between the number of new households formed on an annual basis and the amount of new housing that's created, is growing at an estimated rate of about 220,000 households annually.
I know the committee members will know that housing needs in Grimsby are different from what they are in Weyburn, and they're certainly different from Dartmouth, and different from Halifax, and different from Richelieu. A national housing strategy takes account of that, and it puts in place the tools and resources to ensure that the appropriate resources are available.
We have a willing federal government. Our federal government says it wants to; it told the United Nations it wants to work with the provinces and territories. The provinces and territories want to work with municipalities. The private and non-profit sectors and the aboriginal communities all want to work. We think Bill C-304 provides this mechanism to move forward, so we'd urge this committee to give swift consideration to this draft legislation so that we can move forward to the important work of debating the real details of a new national housing strategy, the kinds of things that Mr. Lyman raised. That's where we should be focusing our discussion. Are those the right kinds of tools? What other models should we be looking at?
Finally, I'd say that there's already been work at the provincial level. The provinces are not waiting for the federal government: Alberta has already made a billion-dollar down payment on its commitment to a 10-year housing plan to end chronic homelessness, and Ontario says it will have a comprehensive housing plan by midsummer of 2010. In the last decade or so, Canada's provinces, territories, and municipal governments have all significantly ramped up their affordable housing investments. They're all demonstrating that they want to be partners in housing progress.
We'd say that Bill C-304 will ensure that the federal government plays its vital role in creating this comprehensive new national housing plan.
Thank you for the opportunity to make these comments.