Evidence of meeting #17 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was homelessness.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Éric Cimon  Director General, Association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec
Tim Richter  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness
Timothy Ross  Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada
Robert Byers  President and Chief Executive Officer, Namerind Housing Corporation
Jeff Morrison  Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Kwan. That's your time.

Next we're going to go to Ms. Falk, please, for five minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Thank you, Chair.

I would like to thank all the witnesses for coming today and for all the work you're doing.

I wanted to make a quick note. Mr. Ross, I completely agree with you regarding community bonds. I see this definitely in a rural riding. Having other people in the community, even in a non-housing way, is so important for the health of people, including their mental health.

Mr. Byers, I also wanted to make a comment to you. I was a social worker previously, so one thing that actually led me into politics was having an influence on the macro, being able to dismantle some of that red tape, because I have been on the phone with social services, whether it was Alberta or Saskatchewan, and had them saying, “It's not my issue.” It gets very frustrating at the end of the day.

I would like to direct my first question to Jeff Morrison, with the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. I know in your open letter to Minister Hussen on May 13 you made the point that affordable housing should be a key component of a post-pandemic economic response. In that letter you mentioned simplifying and expanding existing programs, like the federal lands initiative. This is a federal program that can certainly be utilized to help tackle affordable housing.

During the election we put forward a proposal to make surplus federal real estate available for affordable housing, to reinvigorate the federal lands initiative and to reward municipalities that cut red tape for home building. I'm wondering, in your view, what role the federal lands initiative could play in responding to housing needs. How could this program be reformed or reinvested in to better respond to the current housing needs?

June 8th, 2020 / 3:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

Jeff Morrison

Thank you for the question. You're absolutely correct. The federal lands initiative represents an opportunity for housing providers to really grow their stock of supply. Let's face it, you cannot build a new property unless you first have the land.

During the last election campaign we put forth a proposal for a revamped federal lands initiative. It would provide for the ability of the federal government not just to transfer its own surplus federal land but possibly to acquire surplus municipal, provincial, territorial, plus even private sector land, and then transfer that land to non-profit providers on the condition they build new, affordable supply.

That would require an increase in its funding. Under the national housing strategy, the federal lands initiative went from $2 million to $20 million per year. That's a tenfold increase, but 20 million dollars' worth of land across Canada still does not get you a lot of land required to build new supply.

We think that with a revamped program, with an expanded mandate, but also additional investments, you would be much better placed as a government to stimulate additional supply across the country.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Okay, perfect. Thank you.

As a follow-up, I'm wondering how having all this red tape and bureaucracy impacts our end housing goals. I would appreciate it if any of the other witnesses would also comment.

4 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

Jeff Morrison

I can give one quick answer to that. Under the national housing strategy, the largest program was the national housing co-investment fund, the $14-billion fund intended to invest in both the repair and renewal of existing units and the building of new units.

There are a lot of housing providers across the country who are not applying for that fund, even though it is well resourced, because of the bureaucratic hurdles that are required to access the funding. The form itself is about 200 questions. If you're a small housing provider, it's difficult just to fill in the form. It's also lacking in clarity in terms of the ratio of grant to loan that an eligible housing provider would receive.

That's a good example where the bureaucratic makeup of the program in and of itself is a disincentive to apply for the program even though it's funded to the tune of $14 billion.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Do any other witnesses have a quick comment?

4 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Namerind Housing Corporation

Robert Byers

The co-investment fund is a costly endeavour. As Jeff said, the time involved when you're a small non-profit, when you put your resources into one project or one program, takes from many others. We've been working on one project for quite some time and it's costly. You're always paying people's wages, but you hate to spend so much all in one area not knowing what the return will be, or if there will be a return.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Mr. Byers.

Thank you, Ms. Falk.

We're going to finish up with Mr. Dong for five minutes.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

I want to thank all the panellists for coming here today.

I will share three minutes with Mr. Vaughan.

Mr. Ross, I'm a big fan of co-op housing because I think it is sustainable and builds strong communities. I do agree that the recovery phase of COVID-19 may present lots of opportunities for increases in co-op housing in our country. In my riding the percentage of renters has grown rapidly versus that of homeowners. I remember in my previous life as an MPP, the previous Ontario administration put aside $3 million to help co-op organizations develop plans and apply for and access funds from other levels of government.

Has that money started to flow?

4 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

I'm sorry, which program are you referring to? Are you referring to a provincial—

4 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Yes. In Ontario there was $3 million put aside to help the co-op organizations to put together their applications, their planning, so that they could start building, adding stock in Toronto.

4 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

I'm not sure if the current provincial government decided to continue with that program or not. We'd be happy to speak with Minister Clark and his team about new supply of co-op housing. In fact, we do quite often. We have a very good relationship with Minister Clark as well. That's the thing. Everybody loves co-ops, but we need a new supply program in order to build co-ops.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

To your mind, what is the best way to get more co-ops built in Toronto, given that the cost of development and acquisition could be a challenge, and also that there's a density issue as well in Toronto?

4 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

Sidewalk Labs has just exited a massive development opportunity. That might be an opportunity for government to work together to increase the supply of non-market housing, particularly in Toronto. What governments really need to co-operate on, if you want non-market housing built in your ridings, is a supply program that provides favourable financing and significant grants to address the equity gap, and you need to pair it with income supports to house the most vulnerable.

Look at all the current national housing strategy housing programs. Has any program, since it started, created a reliable output and a significant increase of new co-op housing? No, it hasn't.

We're really willing to work with all existing programs, but if you want a specific outcome of new housing co-ops, you need a non-market housing supply and acquisition program.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Ross.

We'll go over to you, Mr. Vaughan.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Thanks very much.

Mr. Ross, to be clear, what you're saying is that a stronger capital program, a financing system that works and the Canada housing benefit, if the province would deliver it, would actually meet those three criteria?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

They would quite potentially, yes.

What we actually called for in our last pre-budget submission was just a modest start of a $300-million earmarked new supply program to provide financing for capital, but also grants to address the equity gap.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

I have only a couple seconds.

To Mr. Byers, the B.C. government wanted us to transfer all of the reaching home dollars to the provincial capital and have the provincial capital choose which front-line organizations worked. If this was done in Saskatchewan, do you think your organization would get any money?

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Namerind Housing Corporation

Robert Byers

I'd prefer that the money went to the service provider, because if it came to us, I really think that would speak to reconciliation. In my presentation, I spoke a little about reconciliation. I think sometimes money can go from federal to provincial, and by the time it gets to provincial, how they're going to spend it can change.

My hopes are that it would go to the provider.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

You had an application for that shelter. It's in front of our government now as we try to figure out how to build out of COVID. The same application went in front of a city council in your city. Were you successful? If you weren't successful, where did the money go?

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Namerind Housing Corporation

Robert Byers

I don't know.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

You put an application in to city council.

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Namerind Housing Corporation

Robert Byers

We talked about it for the homelessness strategy, and they decided there wasn't a clear plan in place. They voted to give $20,000 in support of it, but in that same meeting they actually voted in favour of the support of a $20-million building for the humane society. The upsetting part in that for me was when they said it was to house homeless pets.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

So homeless pets got—

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Mr. Byers, and thank you, M. Vaughan. Thank you, both.

Thanks to all of the witnesses. We're a little past our allotted time. Your testimony has been thorough and appreciated.

Thank you, Mr. Morrison, for working through the technical challenges.

It was good to have you all here. We very much appreciate what you had to say. It will be important to our work.

Colleagues, thank you very much. We will see you, I believe, on Friday, and we have a subcommittee meeting before that to talk about the rest of our plans.

With that, we are adjourned.