Evidence of meeting #23 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

Susan McGee  Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton
Elaine Taylor  Chair of the Board of Directors, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada
Paul Taylor  President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada
Marie-José Corriveau  Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you.

Mr. Vis, you have the floor for five minutes, sir.

August 17th, 2020 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Chair. I will be sharing some of my time with MP Vecchio.

I have just a quick comment regarding Mission, British Columbia, the community I'm in right now. The number of homeless has tripled from about 63 in 2017 to 178 in 2020, which is more than any other municipality in the Fraser Valley regional district. As a community, though, we are too small to qualify as an urban centre and too big under the rural stream for Reaching Home. In essence, we are the missing middle.

I just want to share with committee members that right behind me is actually the shelter where homeless people live. We don't qualify for that funding. I was pleased that Abbotsford got some. Mission really needs support too, but we don't get it.

I'll switch now to the mortgage brokers. I've heard directly from mortgage brokers regarding the Canada emergency business account. They have shared that the CEBA is being pegged against their mortgage debt when applying for a mortgage. In some cases it's impacting their ability to purchase a home.

Has your organization heard anything about this taking place?

3:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada

Paul Taylor

I have not, actually, until this moment.

Elaine, is there anything from your side?

3:50 p.m.

Chair of the Board of Directors, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada

Elaine Taylor

No. I have not heard that either.

That is new news, if in fact that is happening.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

As I understand it, the CEBA is not meant to count against someone's overall debt when applying for a home. Maybe we need to have a conversation with some of those local banks or credit unions.

That was really my only big question. I will turn it over to MP Vecchio unless you have another quick comment, Mr. Taylor.

3:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada

Paul Taylor

I do, only to say please get in touch with my office directly if you actually have those scenarios with constituents in your riding. We will certainly do our best to assist anybody with whatever expert knowledge is needed. We have members throughout the continuum, so we'll certainly do our best to help.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

That's very helpful. Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

I'm going to move over to Ms. McGee.

Ms. McGee, we know that in 2016 and 2018, point-in-time counts were done, and looking at those gives us an idea of what homelessness looks like. In 2020, of course, it's been postponed.

What kind of impact will that have on data collection, and what will we be able to do so that we have that coordinated response that you speak of?

3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

That's an interesting question, because I have worked closely with the department on that through the data committee that we participate in.

There will be a data gap, but we also have communities that have been working and implementing their outreach through a registry and a by-name list. I've suggested that we have a parallel approach, so that in the absence of data, we curate what communities do have. Most importantly, as is always the case, counts are not absolute, but they're trends, and we have really good trending information. Unfortunately, it's not a good picture.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Okay. That's great to know.

When you're looking at first-time homelessness, I know that for many people who are unfortunately finding themselves without a home, it is for the first time and it is due to the pandemic. What does that look like, and are there any factors we should be looking at? Are there financial needs because of the pandemic, or is it something to do with a variety of addictions and other things that are occurring? What would you say is one of the biggest causes during this pandemic for increased first-time homelessness for people?

3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

Certainly I think we need a serious look at an emergency response fund that some provinces have had, as well as an expansion of accessibility to what exists now. Sometimes the thresholds for accessing emergency dollars are very high. We actually spend a lot of time, money and resources just maintaining a barrier against individuals who are trying to access supports that can transition them out of homelessness very quickly, so I think we need a deeper dive into that. For some, that it is a very light touch and can happen quickly, and for others there doesn't need to be a commitment for ongoing support so that they're not cycling back into what was the wrong housing situation in the first place.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Okay. I'm going to switch over very quickly to Paul Taylor.

Right now, what are you seeing on the trends when it comes to the first-time homebuyers getting into the market during this pandemic?

3:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada

Paul Taylor

There is an awful lot of transaction activity across the country, I think. We are running a series of consumer surveys. The first of those reports was released just last week. Every six weeks between now and the end of the year we'll be going back out to consumers to get their sense.

We are concerned about that September-October deferral cliff. We think it may well impact people's sentiment about what they're doing with housing, but that's no surprise. The lockdown has made an awful lot of people a whole lot more critical about their current living environment and whether where they're living is actually suitable for their situation. Across the last couple of months, there has been a lot of pent-up demand that is not necessarily economic but is based more on lifestyle, it would seem.

As our chief economist reminds me all the time, we have been surprised by numbers every single month. We would be foolish not to expect be surprised for the next three months, frankly.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you.

Finally, we're going to go to Ms. Young.

You have five minutes, Ms. Young.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Thank you very much, Chair, and I apologize for that. I actually lost connection for a good 10 minutes, so I apologize if I'm repeating anything that's already been asked.

Ms. McGee, you mentioned that you have established new partnerships because of COVID-19. You mentioned hotels, and here in London our city has been using a hotel. I wonder about the sustainability of that model. As you said, something is going to have to give. What will happen to those 600 people in Edmonton who are being housed in hotels right now?

3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

To clarify, the 600 I cited are actually housed in apartments and are being provided support. They're in self-contained units. Housing First relies largely on the market housing that's available, and working with landlords. They do pay rent, so they're under the RTA.

The Coliseum Inn, which we had leased, is providing for approximately 100 people at any given time. It's bridge housing, so it isn't housing, because it's very short term. It's helping us transition people who are living on the street, as opposed to in shelters. We have a very different growth in our encampment population and our living-rough population versus our shelter population, so it plays a different role.

On your question about sustainability and making short-term decisions that are, quite frankly, very expensive, when we look at per diem rates in a hotel response versus owning something that can be part of our social infrastructure in the long run, that's one of the reasons we haven't put short-term investments into things that will have greater risks in the long term. However, we do have a pipeline of properties that we would look at procuring and operating with a very good opportunity in terms of cost in order to have longer-term solutions immediately in our community.

I think communities that have gone that route are struggling with the costs of what to do now. That hasn't been our strategy, in the short term at least, but we certainly have a pipeline of properties that we would look at.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Thank you.

Indigenous homelessness has been an issue that we've grappled with in London, and I was pleased to support a motion by MP Gazan to actually study indigenous homelessness. It's been put on hold because of COVID, but of course the problem is that much worse. I just wonder if you could comment on how COVID has changed the dynamics, if at all, for indigenous homelessness.

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

The homeless community in Edmonton certainly has a dramatic overrepresentation of indigenous members, but we have looked at the relationships with nations, to try to support those nations and support their members where possible. That's one of the strategies that the COVID-19 response with Reaching Home has allowed us to do, because it has created some flexibility so that we are able to work directly with nations.

Amongst the organizations that are indigenous, our community was not really previously involved in homelessness responses, but we've been growing our relationships to have more of a community response that touches on a wider range of services—focusing on prevention, providing kits for families and helping with food security—through a lot of different relationships to work more directly around those organizations and to build new relationships with them. Consistently about 65% of our community experiencing homelessness is indigenous, and within that community there's a lot of turnover between communities as well.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

I also want to pick up on something that MP Vaughan was talking about, which was money flowing from the province and maybe some of the concerns there. Certainly in some provinces, they're not getting the funds necessary within the right time frame.

Is building new housing the answer to this? Is that really the bottom line of what we need to do?

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

We definitely need more product that is dedicated in perpetuity to the community, which is our social housing and community housing stock. We absolutely do. We also need processes to ensure that people access that and that they are prioritized. Honestly a fear that I think many have in the sector is that we build new housing, but then in the near term it isn't prioritized for the people it was built for.

Our system needs to ensure that this dedication of capital goes to the need it was intended to serve. The programs we work with right now try to message that consistently. We have “haves” and “have-nots”. We have have-nots amongst the haves and have-nots, and typically, the system will tend to start to house people who are less expensive to serve and who create less overhead. Our systems need to be designed so that we ensure that the significant capital and efforts that we put in go to the people who need them.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Thank you very much.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. McGee.

Thank you, Ms. Young.

Colleagues, we are going to suspend while we welcome Ms. Corriveau. I would ask you all to stand by. I expect this will be a very brief suspension while we just do a sound check, and as mentioned before, the witnesses who are with us right now have agreed to stay on in case you have other questions once we hear from Ms. Corriveau. We stand suspended.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

We are now back in session.

I would like to welcome Mrs. Marie-José Corriveau from the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain.

Mrs. Corriveau, thank you for appearing for the second time.

You have the floor.

4:05 p.m.

Marie-José Corriveau Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

As mentioned, my name is Marie-José Corriveau. I represent the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), a group that was created 41 years ago. It is made up of 140 organizations from across Quebec that are concerned about poverty alleviation and housing rights. FRAPRU primarily calls on higher governments in order to advance the right to housing and access to social housing.

In terms of the government response to the pandemic, FRAPRU is grateful to the federal government for quickly setting up the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which has enabled households to meet their basic needs, such as food and housing. However, FRAPRU is disappointed, even shocked, by the disproportionate amount of money made available to the wealthiest versus to the poorest and most vulnerable households to get through the health crisis. In terms of housing, just like after the 2008 economic crisis, Canada decided to primarily help banks, insurance companies and property owners, leaving tenants to fend for themselves. We are coming out of these last few months with an increased sense of injustice.

Moreover, the CERB failed to prevent 3,000 Quebec households from having to resort to the Quebec program set up to help tenants unable to pay their rent after losing their jobs and suffering drastic cuts to their incomes. The next few months will be worrisome for many of them, as they will have to pay back loans without necessarily having found a job by that time.

However, one good thing about the pandemic is that it has reminded us of the close and incontrovertible connection between the right to housing and the right to health, and of the fact that housing is one of the main determinants of health. The lockdown measures imposed to minimize the risks of the spread of the coronavirus have not been experienced by everyone in the same way.

How can you be in lockdown when you just don't have housing? How can you stay locked down in a house that is too small, unhealthy or suffocating because of successive heat waves? How can you stay healthy when rent takes up an inordinate part of the family budget to the detriment of food, medication and other necessities, such as a mask or the Internet? How do you cope in times of lockdown when you depend on community resources for food, clothing and transportation on a daily basis, but those community resources have to cut back on their activities to comply with the rules of physical distancing?

For too many households, the pandemic is yet another crisis in a life fraught with peril. Already, as of the 2016 census, 1.7 million Canadian households were in core housing need—that is, living in housing that is substandard, too small or too expensive. The overwhelming majority of them are poor renters. In Quebec, the approximately 244,120 tenant households in core housing need had a median income of only $17,612 for all of 2015.

Since the last census, things have become worse. A housing shortage is spreading and taking root in Quebec's major cities, as in several other Canadian provinces. Here, the vacancy rate for rental housing is only 1.8%, and it is only 1.5% in the census metropolitan areas of Montreal and Gatineau. This represents half of the 3% threshold that is supposed to guarantee a balance between landlords and tenants. In Gatineau, the average market rent increased by 10% between 2018 and 2019, in a single year.

The impacts are devastating and will unfortunately last. Many tenants are under undue pressure to accept unjustified rent increases. On the ground, it has been observed that the rents charged for rental units this spring were well above the average current price. However, as the shortage seems to want to last, the concern is that this inflationary trend will continue. Among the hundreds of Quebec households who were unable to find new housing and who found themselves homeless last month, in July, many had been repossessed or “renovicted” because their landlords were trying to get rid of them, especially if they were long-term tenants and paying low rent.

Searching for housing in the midst of the pandemic is also problematic, if not impossible, for poor households that do not have access to the Internet because they do not have the equipment, because the system is too expensive or because the service is simply not available in their areas. Many, including families, racialized people and the poor, have also been discriminated against because of their condition, regardless of their credit or rent payment history, without any truly effective recourse to defend themselves. The shortage is literally pushing households to the brink of homelessness in the midst of a pandemic.

Finally, let's remember that, too often, to find new housing, the households thus displaced have had to leave their neighbourhood, their city, or even their region, thereby losing their family and community support network.

Under those circumstances, FRAPRU hoped that the federal government would not only quickly review the programs to help the poorly housed, but that it would also invest more in social housing as part of the national housing strategy. To date, it has done neither of those things.

Yet in 2017, when the national housing strategy was adopted, the government also identified households in core housing need. However, the resources announced to assist them came with serious gaps, making those measures ineffective. FRAPRU then identified and denounced those problems. If you wish, I can give you some examples.

Since the pandemic was declared, the unemployment rate has soared. Now, a second wave is looming, as well as a recession, or even an economic crisis. Governments are investing massively to support different parts of the economy. FRAPRU is asking them to relaunch a major social housing project and to adequately finance the refurbishment of all those units already built. So far, Ottawa's response has been extremely disappointing and detrimental to what is to come.

Beyond the health and economic crises, we believe that the government has a duty to protect the poorest and most poorly housed from the environmental crises that are now certain to follow. To do so, it must stop procrastinating and start investing again in social, non-profit and non-market housing. To fund the effort, the government has no shortage of resources. Here are a few examples. It can reduce its investments in fossil fuels. It can review its tax system, withdraw the tax benefits granted in recent decades to the wealthiest and restore a more progressive tax scale. It must also fight more seriously against tax evasion and tax avoidance. However, whatever avenues it chooses, it must better protect the most vulnerable, otherwise the political and economic damage will be disproportionate and the social fractures likely to be irreversible.

I hope I have stayed within the time limits.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Yes, absolutely. It was probably a challenge for the interpreters. Anyway, thank you very much.