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

4:15 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

I had sent my document in advance to make it easier for them.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

That's fine.

We will now go to questions from members, starting with Mr. Vis.

I would like to remind members that their questions can be directed to any of the witnesses who are still here.

Mr. Vis, you have the floor for six minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

I don't believe it's me, Mr. Chair. I believe it's Mr. Albas.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Mr. Albas, the floor is yours.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mrs. Corriveau, thank you for your testimony.

Recently, the Government of Canada announced a one-time payment of $600 for people with disabilities to help with the additional costs they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government recently announced that this payment would not be made until the fall, several months after Canadians have felt the impact of COVID-19 on their expenses.

Based on your work, you have experience working with individuals living in low-income housing, some of whom may be experiencing financial hardship because of a disability. How important do you think it is that this tax credit be provided sooner than currently estimated by the Liberal government?

4:15 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

I would like to come back briefly to a number of points.

First, we have to remember that most people with physical disabilities receive social assistance and that their income is extremely low. I don't know about the rest of Canada, but at least that's the case in Quebec. That's the first issue. They generally have no savings. They spend their cheques as they receive them, because that is the only way they can manage. They are in survival mode.

As for the second problem, as I mentioned, there is a shortage of housing, particularly housing that is adapted for people with disabilities. They are basically confined to their homes year-round. They are already having a hard time finding resources to support them and it is already difficult for them to move around. Clearly, under such circumstances, when they cannot count on any savings, they cannot be asked to fund this effort.

The government has to subsidize people. First, the Government of Canada needs to increase transfers to the provinces and encourage the provinces to increase social assistance benefits, especially for those people, but also for all poor unemployed people. They should not be asked to fund this effort because they are not able to do so. Therefore, they should be paid an amount quickly, as the government has done with the CERB.

I'm not sure whether that answers your question.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

I agree with what you're saying.

Based on what you have heard from individuals and families living in low-income housing and from your organization's perspective, what will the future concerns be in terms of providing people with decent living conditions?

Does FRAPRU have the resources to continue to provide assistance?

4:15 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

I'm glad you asked me that question. I didn't have time to address it in my presentation, but I wanted to tell you about it. The problem is renovating, improving and modernizing existing low-income housing to which the federal government contributed more than 25 years ago. The federal government has responsibilities to the provinces, to municipalities and, most importantly, to the households in low-income housing. However, those units have often been poorly or inadequately maintained. Preventive maintenance has been neglected for decades. In Quebec, we are facing a significant deficit, to the point that, as we have seen in Toronto in particular, buildings and low-income housing units are boarded up and uninhabitable because of a lack of proper subsidies to keep them in good condition.

Currently, the Fédération des locataires d'habitations à loyer modique du Québec estimates that Quebec needs $420 million a year to refurbish its 71,000 low-income housing units. For its part, the Office municipal d'habitation de Montréal, which owns 12 boarded-up buildings totalling almost 300 low-income housing units, needs $1.2 billion over five years or $150 million per year for 20 years to complete its 2017 replacement, improvement and modernization plan.

Just this week, I spoke to the director of the Office municipal d'habitation de Montréal, which has just received its budget for 2020-2021. This budget will not even allow for the restoration and rental of low-income housing that has become vacant simply because the occupants had to leave for one reason or another. In short, not only are we unable to refurbish and rent out boarded-up housing, but we are not even able to rent out those whose previous occupants just left. It makes no sense.

In our opinion, this is the responsibility of both levels of government, but certainly and first and foremost of the Government of Quebec, which is the main funder. For years, if not decades, it has systematically refused the preventive maintenance plans proposed by groups and municipalities to keep the supply of low-income housing in good condition. As someone who has been working in the field for a long time, I can attest to it. So this is the first urgent priority.

Furthermore, not only is the national housing strategy's funding for retrofitting buildings in good condition clearly insufficient, but we are also outraged that the government is maintaining its game plan to eventually stop funding and subsidizing the rent of the families that will occupy those units. From now on, after a decade or so, the responsibility will fall on neighbours, provinces, municipalities and territories. It makes no sense for the government to offload the responsibility and thereby abandon poor families. That was the second point I wanted to make.

The third point relates to the need for social housing. As I mentioned, in a number of large cities in Quebec, but also in Canada, we are seeing huge increases in the cost of rent. Poor families are no longer able to find decent housing in large cities. Financially, this would require impossible efforts on their part, because their budgets are clearly insufficient.

For its part, the government has chosen to fund what it calls affordable housing. Affordable housing is not affordable for low-income households and households in core housing need. Affordability is relative. What is affordable for you and me is not affordable for a poor family.

To have lower rents, we must stop setting targets based on current prices and instead set targets based on the ability of tenants to pay. To do so, we need to subsidize rents. The only solution is to rebuild and develop the supply of social housing so that we are not constantly starting all over again. Right now, among OECD members, Canada ranks 16th in terms of the proportion of social housing on its territory. This is obscene. We are part of the G7. Abandoning poor households in this way makes no sense. On our end, we believe that the government needs to drastically review its investments in developing new social housing and, above all, to focus its efforts in this sector.

We can't even blame the private market; it's doing its job, it's trying to make a profit. I'm sorry, but when you're out to make a profit, it's not true that—

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Mrs. Corriveau.

4:20 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

Excuse me, Mr. Chair.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

I gave Mr. Albas six minutes, but we're well over that.

Thank you, Mr. Albas.

We'll now go to the Liberal side with Mr. Kusmierczyk.

Mr. Kusmierczyk, you have the floor for six minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Irek Kusmierczyk Liberal Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I just want to say what an excellent conversation we're having here this afternoon and to thank my colleagues for the excellent questions and the panellists for the excellent responses.

My question is directed to Ms. McGee and Madame Corriveau. I'm not sure if Ms. McGee is available.

Vancouver recently did its annual homeless count and for the first time they used race-based data, which revealed and confirmed that people who identified as black and as indigenous were disproportionately represented among the homeless population. Statistics Canada recently released its labour force survey, again using disaggregated race-based data for the first time, and it revealed that COVID-19 is hitting hard Canadians who identify, for example, as south Asian, Arabic, black and indigenous.

How important is the gathering of disaggregated race-based data when it comes to housing and homelessness, and why is that important?

August 17th, 2020 / 4:25 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

I would just comment in general that it's very important. Data, information, everything we know, prepares us better for solutions. It's important in sharing with the rest of Canadians and recognizing that the pandemic has really hit some of our most marginalized community members the hardest, and those experiencing racism. That data goes to support that. It obviously needs to be collected with care and good intentions for sure. I really do adhere to the principle that we are best positioned to solve the problem the better we understand it. One of the things about the pandemic is that it has clearly demonstrated that those who have been previously marginalized and have difficulty accessing support services and employment have had an even more difficult time at this juncture.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Irek Kusmierczyk Liberal Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you very much.

I would ask Madame Corriveau for her opinion on this too.

4:25 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

I agree with everything the previous speaker said. We obviously need data to be able to see as clearly as possible the challenges we are facing and to be able to find good solutions.

But the fundamental problem with homelessness is the whole debate about what is and what is not a proper count. A few years ago, the City of Montreal counted about 3,000 homeless people in Montreal. However, that is not what we are seeing on the ground. They only counted people who, at a given time or on a specific day of the year, were on the street, period. They did not take into account all the strategies that people who are homeless or experiencing homelessness use, such as sleeping sometimes here and sometimes there. For example, I think of women who have become homeless because they can no longer afford a place to live, but who avoid sleeping on a park bench by all sorts of means. They are no less homeless, but they are never counted as such.

This means that the way in which the number of homeless people is determined is a fundamental problem. I feel that, if the count considered those strategies, we would come up with a much higher number than we had imagined.

The problems of homelessness among indigenous people have been relatively well documented in Quebec, particularly in Montreal and Gatineau, as well as in some other cities.

In the case of racialized people, there have been some clues, but no counts. Therefore, I am not in a position to tell you whether or not the technique currently in use is adequate or not. We can see, particularly in Montreal, that more and more racialized people are on the streets. This is a relatively recent trend, I would say, but I'm not sure whether their proportion is higher than that of the general population. I'm not able to tell you that.

In any case, I would like to stress that, from the outset, the method needs to be reviewed, because it gives us what I would call a false sense of comfort about what is really happening in cities.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

You have less than a minute, Mr. Kusmierczyk.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Irek Kusmierczyk Liberal Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you very much for your answers. That gives us a lot of food for thought and is much appreciated.

We know that through the Reaching Home initiative there is an indigenous homelessness funding stream. I just want to ask both of you again to comment on the following: Compared with the general population, do indigenous people experience homelessness and face additional or different vulnerabilities when it comes to COVID-19?

4:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Susan McGee

When it comes to COVID-19, if we look at the pandemic and the bottleneck it has created in accessing so many services, the impact would be exponential for any population as disproportionately impacted by poverty and homelessness as our indigenous community.

I don't want to oversimplify the response but I think it's in the numbers and in the experience, and in the challenge of “just where is home?” Being able to isolate in place, being able to manage in some circumstances or situations where several people are living in the same home and somebody becomes ill.... There are compounding factors for sure, but it is really just an amplification of the fact that the most restrictive processes are going to hurt the most vulnerable the most.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you. Mr. Kusmierczyk's time has run out.

We'll now go to Ms. Chabot for six minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mrs. Corriveau, I applaud you and FRAPRU. Thank you for being here and for your testimony.

I am very familiar with your organization in Quebec. The claims you are making today are in line with those you have been making for years.

Please tell me if my figures are accurate. I believe you said that, in July 2020 alone, 350 households were without housing. That would be the highest number since 2003. Also, if the community organizations did a count, it might be higher. If this is accurate, it does confirm that there is a shortage of what we may call social housing. A distinction could be made between community-based housing, low-income housing and affordable housing, but let's say there is a shortage of social housing. This is something you have been working on for years.

Other speakers have talked about the national housing strategy. As you know, an agreement was signed between the federal government and all the provinces except Quebec. For Quebec, the amount over the last three years could be between $1.4 billion and $1.7 billion, which is not insignificant.

In your opinion, if the money had been transferred unconditionally to Quebec, what difference would it have made to the dynamic?

4:30 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

My hope is that the Government of Quebec would have been more generous in launching new programming for the development of social housing. It already had a first challenge to meet: it had decided to deliver some 15,000 social housing units that had already been in the program for about 10 years, but that had still not been delivered because the Quebec subsidy program had not been adapted to the new economic realities, particularly land prices and construction costs. I therefore dare to hope that, had it received money from the federal government, the Quebec government would have launched a new program.

That said, my main problem at the moment is that the federal government, while claiming that this is an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, has developed a series of funds that could be called programs. In so doing, it is taking the role of the provinces in the way they do things and solve problems, instead of giving them the financial resources they need to take action according to their own challenges and to what the communities want.

I think the federal government should do the right thing and be a funder. It should take full responsibility for all the low-income housing that it helped to bring about before 1994, of course. It should not only comply with the agreements, but also ensure that the supply is refurbished. After that, it should proceed with the transfers properly. My hope is that this would allow Quebec in particular to move things along more quickly. It must be said that in Quebec, social housing development has continued, but that is not the case in all the provinces at this time.

Let me come back to what I was saying earlier: we must entirely abandon the idea of entrusting the private sector with developing housing for families in core housing need. It's not true that the private sector will be able to develop the housing for them. It is impossible for them to pay for that kind of housing when their annual income is between $17,000 and $20,000. We have no choice but to look at non-profit housing and subsidized housing. In order to prevent this from being a complete waste of time or an unsustainable measure, it is important to have social housing that is not sold, but that is protected and properly maintained for future generations.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

You have one minute left, Ms. Chabot.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mrs. Corriveau, given what we currently know and the solutions you are proposing, what concerns or apprehensions would you have about a second wave that remains possible but that we do not want? What do we have to do in order to prepare for that situation?

4:35 p.m.

Coordinator, Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain

Marie-José Corriveau

Let me quickly summarize what I have already told you.

Of course, we need to make sure that the poor have the income they need for adequate housing, because that is one of the conditions for staying healthy. We have to start working right now on social housing, whether it already exists or is being developed, and take the steps needed to fund it. While the government has printed a lot of money in recent months, money still does not grow on trees. So we are going to have to turn to more fortunate individuals and companies who can fund this effort, with a view to genuinely sharing wealth in Canada. That is quite the challenge.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mrs. Corriveau.