Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation to present to the committee today.
My name is Tim Ross, and I'm the executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. CHF Canada is the national voice of the co-operative housing movement, representing over 2,200 housing co-operatives, home to over a quarter of a million people in every province and territory.
Before I begin, I just want to take a moment to recognize our current social context and acknowledge that co-operatives are built on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. It is with that value of solidarity that I say as long as systemic racism exists in our communities, we must and we will work to dismantle this injustice. We, as a sector, stand with individuals and communities affected by systemic racism, violence and discrimination, including police brutality against black individuals, people of colour and indigenous people here in Canada.
Now I will move on to the subject of your study. COVID-19 has reminded us that a safe, secure home is the foundation on which we build our lives, and not all Canadians had this prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. We have seen how this pandemic has also brought to the surface the social and economic inequities that have been invisible or not prioritized here in Canada.
When it comes to housing options, people often know they can buy and they can rent, but there is another choice out there that's underutilized, and that is co-operative housing. Housing co-operatives provide secure, at-cost housing for people of diverse backgrounds and incomes who work together democratically to make decisions about their housing. Housing co-operatives are owned by their members. They provide security of tenure and they are affordable forever. For example, I am speaking to you here in Ottawa, where a two-bedroom apartment costs, on average, well over $1,400 a month. A two-bedroom apartment in a co-operative in Ottawa costs approximately $1,000 per month.
In my report I'll inform the committee how the co-op housing sector has been affected by COVID-19 and provide some recommendations on how to curb the socio-economic devastation brought on by this pandemic.
As a general headline, housing co-operatives are weathering this storm. Because of their community focus, housing co-operatives, by design, are strong communities. They are able to weather economic and social hardship, and anecdotally across our membership we've heard that housing charges, or rental arrears, have remained manageable in March, April and May of this year. We believe this is evidence that the CERB and other income assistance programs are working and reaching the people in need to help them pay for rent and other necessities.
CHF Canada and our partners will continue to monitor these trends in the coming months as the economy slowly starts to reopen across the country.
Co-operatives in Canada and around the world adhere to seven central business principles, making them distinct from other businesses. One of those principles is concern for community. We have seen people taking this principle very seriously during this health crisis. We have heard countless stories of members checking in on each other, particularly their most vulnerable neighbours and the elderly, running errands, picking up groceries and prescriptions, coordinating child care and assisting in countless other ways through their strong community bonds.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHF Canada's top priority has been the health and safety of our members and supporting their social and economic stability through COVID-19.
CHF Canada supports the significant steps the federal government has taken to flatten the curve and contain the threat of COVID-19, while also limiting its impact on the social and economic welfare of people in communities. We also appreciate that CMHC's early outreach, specifically to the community housing sector, was to commit very early on to doing what it can within its mandate to ensure no housing loss in community housing during COVID-19.
We also applaud the government's introduction of the various emergency income response programs such as the Canada emergency response benefit. Since the beginning of the pandemic CHF Canada has advised co-op members who could pay their housing charges to do so in order to protect the financial stability of their co-operative homes.
COVID-19 has already highlighted what we already know: The current housing market does not address the housing needs of all Canadian families. Without sustainable action and investment in affordable housing, the disparities in our communities will only deepen and worsen, especially as eviction bans are lifted and emergency support funding ceases.
CHF Canada is recommending that the federal government prioritize investments in housing as a part of its COVID-19 response and recovery plan. Further to that, we recommend that the federal government put housing at the centre of its health, social and economic response and recovery work. To that end, I have a couple of specific recommendations.
Recommendation one is relative to income or rental assistance. Let's recognize that COVID-19 is a global pandemic. COVID-19 is a pan-Canadian pandemic and the economic, social and health impacts are being felt from coast to coast to coast. We need federal leadership to prevent housing loss due to COVID-19 both during the response and during the recovery period to COVID-19.
Yes, we all know that housing is under the jurisdiction of provinces and territories; however, the socio-economic devastation from COVID-19 is universal and requires federal leadership and investment to prevent housing loss. We need to make sure the deferred rents of today don't become evictions of tomorrow, and we need strong income supports now and in the recovery phase to prevent housing loss.
The second recommendation is relative to supply. We encourage the federal government to support the development of non-market, non-profit co-operative housing through both development and acquisition, and that includes housing co-operatives. Housing really does need to be the focal point of any social and economic recovery plan, and investment in affordable and co-op housing is not a radical idea.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Canada developed many programs that successfully started most of the co-ops that exist today, sprouting up in every province and territory. These federal programs were cut in the 1990s or devolved to provinces, creating a shortage of affordable homes. Had these programs continued at their prior rate of growth and development, we'd have half a million more affordable homes across the country and people would be able to weather the storm more effectively. Instead, we have what has already been reported by my colleague Tim Richter, a severe net loss of affordable rentals due to the financialization of housing following the 2008 recession. Let's learn from that recession and not make the same mistakes again.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not comment on the devastating loss of life among elders in long-term care. In terms of our members and members of housing co-ops across the country, we're very committed to aging in place for our elderly members. Co-ops have been helping to adapt to the changing needs of members as they age in place so that they can stay independent and autonomous in their strong community. With the need continuing to grow for low-cost housing options for seniors, we recommend that the government consider investments in aging in place for housing providers such as co-ops.
Considering the broad system impacts of our recommendations, it's paramount to take an integrated approach to the economic recovery planning in partnership with all levels of government, as well as sector organizations with community-based housing experience and expertise.
The co-op housing sector is well poised to work closely with public, private and non-profit partners to build the critical socio-economic infrastructure needed to meet the pre-existing and growing housing needs in our communities. Our movement is resourceful, passionate and dedicated to a future with more co-operatives as a housing option that are open, sustainable and strong.
Amidst the significant level of public spending in response to COVID-19, investing in long-term solutions that support community well-being must be a top priority in economic recovery planning. This is the time for ambitious public investments in people and communities, and this is the time to invest in more non-market, not-for-profit housing, including co-operatives, across the country.
I really appreciate and thank you for the invitation to be here today. I'll conclude on that statement, and I look forward to questions and dialogue.
Thank you very much.