Madam Speaker, people who live in affordable housing often have it taken away. Tenant households usually have lower than average incomes, and homelessness is often the only alternative when they do not have access to affordable rental housing. We just have to go into our big Canadian cities to see that there are an increasing number of homeless people. The major problem is that they do not have access to affordable housing.
Rental housing also plays an important economic role. Investing in rental housing is an effective means of stimulating the economy because these low-income families can then purchase more consumer goods. In addition, labour mobility is much greater among renters, although high housing costs can prevent people from leaving less expensive markets. Investing in rental housing has positive effects on labour productivity. On the other hand, the limited availability of affordable rental housing makes it more difficult for companies to recruit workers.
When rents are too high in one municipality, people usually will live much further away. this results in public transit problems in large cities. Often, in cities across the country that have no affordable housing, businesses, restaurants and stores that usually pay low wages have trouble hiring because workers cannot find affordable housing. A town that does not invest in affordable rental housing is less likely to attract businesses or manufacturers with employees who would rent these units and provide affordable labour.
The recession has resulted in the under-utilization of resources in the construction industry. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that 50,000 jobs have been lost in this sector based on previous average levels of employment. Investing in rental housing is therefore an effective way of supporting tenant households and stimulating the economy.
We have just experienced a recession. Those 50,000 additional unemployed workers include construction workers who have found themselves without jobs because there is less construction. There was a government program to encourage homeowners to invest in renovations and other similar projects but no such programs were available for rental housing. Few apartment buildings have been built. In some cities, there are apartment buildings where the rent is $2,000, $3,000 or $4,000 a month, when almost no affordable housing has been built.
Some cities are already taking steps to increase the number of affordable rental housing units and to improve existing units. Let us look at Montreal, for example. When rental complexes are built, the City of Montreal requires that a certain percentage of the units be rented at modest or affordable prices. Most cities in Canada should follow this example and require any large rental housing complexes to offer units at different rental rates.
That would prevent the formation of ghettos. Without such measures, we will end up with cities where the very rich live in one part of town, those who can pay for slightly more expensive housing live in another, and, as has been pointed out, manual labourers are once again forced to live out of town in the suburbs, in places where the rent is more affordable.
Federal housing policies support home ownership and social housing, but they ignore the private rental housing sector. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has proposed a number of highly effective, low-cost measures that the federal government could implement to strengthen the rental housing sector.
The government has initiated a number of programs to boost the economy. These programs could be extended to include affordable rental housing.
The New Democratic Party has a strong record on housing and has good relationships with stakeholders in the housing sector. This motion would enable us to make the case for our positions on housing and support our municipalities.
The Conservative government invested public money in housing through Canada's economic action plan, but those measures were only for homeowners and the social housing sector. There was nothing for the private rental sector. The motion will force the government either to respond to Canadian municipalities' calls for investments and intervention in the area of affordable rental housing, or to publicly refuse to take action in this matter.
The Conservatives also hesitate to recognize that housing and poverty are human rights issues. The motion reminds them that Canada has a legal obligation to respect the right to suitable housing under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Canada is a signatory.
Everyone has the right to adequate housing in which to live.
The motion comes in response to a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which has worked very hard to get this government to support rental housing. During a meeting with the NDP's housing critics, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities indicated that an issue is considered a top priority only when it is considered important in all regions of the country and in all towns and cities, large and small. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities' campaign focuses on the urgent need to addresses this issue across the country. Affordable rental housing is not just a local problem; it is a problem across Canada.
Nearly half of all single-parent households headed by women are tenants. In 2006, 45.3% of these households spent at least 30% of their income on housing. This determines the level of housing affordability. Considering that in the manufacturing sector, in the service industry and even in the agricultural sector, people usually earn minimum wage, just imagine how easily rent could eat up half or sometimes even two-thirds of one's income.
Women living alone also seem more likely than men living alone to devote over 30% of their income to rent. It is a well-known fact—we have heard it before—that, in general, women earn less than men.
It is important to remember that housing is an important human right. This right is compromised by the lack of rental housing, and homelessness then becomes people's only alternative. I know something about this. As a result of certain events in my life, I lost everything and I was homeless for a certain period of time before I was able to get back on my feet. That is why this issue is so close to my heart: I have lived it.
Investments in housing also constitute an important economic stimulus measure. These investments support the construction industry and local businesses that hire employees. They also stimulate the economy because families that live in affordable housing units can spend more on other things. There is an old expression that says that when construction is booming so is the economy. This is therefore a good way to stimulate the economy. It is not enough to promote home ownership. The government must also promote access to affordable housing for all social classes.
The number of private rental housing units is shrinking but demand is expected to increase in the next 10 years. We heard it said earlier that only 10% of new builds will be affordable rental housing units. Yet, we know that, in the next 10 years, there will be demand for 50,000 a year. That is a lot. It would not cost very much if the government followed three good suggestions: loans with low interest rates; a tax credit to protect rental housing; and a retrofitting tax credit. That way, those who have renovations to do will be able to continue to provide low-cost rental housing instead of turning their units into condos.